Spokane Tribe Telecommunications Update

Spokane Tribe Telecommunications Update:

On June 6, 2020 the Spokane Tribal General Council voted to on a referendum to shut down the Spokane Tribe Telecommunications Exchange (STTX). We wanted to provide the Tribal membership with an update on the steps taken to honor the referendum and to also provide an update on some telecom COVID response projects.

STTX has been shut down and all assets have been transferred to the Executive Director of the Tribe on June 26, 2020. Management of the Tribal Telecommunications Department has been temporarily placed under the Planning and Economic Development Director of the Tribe until a Tribal Telecom Plan is completed. The Tribe’s Office of Spokane Tribal Attorneys (OSTA), Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Planning Director are reviewing all contracts, budgets and accounts to complete the transition of STTX to the Tribal government. This process is taking some time and should be completed soon. Current STTX customers have been sent a letter to explain the transition and we are working with them to get them updated. We want all customers to know that their services will continue, and we still strive to provide responsive customer service. As we work through this transition period we will reach out to customers and business partners to coordinate future services and do our best to get any questions answered they may have.

Broadband Update & COVID-19 Response:
As COVID 19 has impacted the nation, the Spokane Tribe is responding to the crisis by preparing to assist the Reservation community with internet and broadband. The Tribe has three telecom projects planned to respond to this public health emergency. These projects are the Residential Emergency Internet and Wi-fi Hotspot Project, Broadband Tower 2.5 GHz Project and the Fiber Deployment project. Below are updates on these projects:

Residential Emergency Internet and Wi-fi Hotspot Project (Immediate Response):
This project will construct four 40’ft towers built to accommodate the residential areas, emergency internet services to approximately 100 plus homes in the Wellpinit, Newhouse Lane, Martha Boardman, and West End areas.

The main purpose for the emergency residential internet services are to provide connectivity for workers telecommuting, students to access schoolwork, patients to access medical systems when available and regular usage for access to Internet information. This project deadline is by August 26, 2020 when the students return to school for the 2020-2021 year. This project will provide temporary connectivity until the permanent infrastructure projects can be constructed. The project includes providing cellular jump packs to areas where cellular signal is usable as a backup plan. Many of the schools in our area are doing this. This solution will reach most of the homes in Ford and Wellpinit areas. We are working with ATT to see if this is an option for West End as well. We know this will not reach every student by the start of the school year, so we have planned to deploy Wi-fi hotspots at the community centers and at the Powwow grounds in Wellpinit, Ford and West End. As we work with  Telecom providers to plan a fixed wi-fi system in these communities, we wanted to have the jump packs ready for use if this is not achieved by the start of the school year. It is the Tribe’s plan to provide the jump packs free of charge to the students. Maria Cullooyah is the project Manager for this project. She can be reached via email at mariac@SpokaneTribe.com or via phone at 509-458-6548. We are working diligently to make sure there is some type of option for our students to be able to do distance learning this school year. As we coordinate with several area schools, we will keep you updated on how to access the needed equipment to get connected.

Broadband Tower 2.5 GHz Project (Intermediate Response):
The Spokane Tribal Planning Department is coordinating the construction of four telecommunication towers on the reservation to provide reliable broadband and cell phone services to residents in the areas of West End, Ford, and Wellpinit. These towers will allow more employees to have access to teleworking, more students to engage in distance learning, and more residents to conduct business and personal transactions digitally.

The Tribe has applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a gain access to a 2.5 GHz band window. This is a unique opportunity for Tribes in rural areas to directly access unassigned spectrum over their Tribal lands. The 2.5 GHz band is suitable for both mobile coverage and fixed point-to-point uses. This can play an important role in the deployment of broadband and other advanced communications services on our reservation. If you have questions or comments about this project please contact the Project Manager, Rachelle Bradley at rbradley@spokanetribe.com or 509-458-6520

Fiber Deployment Project (Long-term Solution):
The Fiber Deployment project will deploy the fiber connectivity needed to complete the hybrid system design for the Reservation. This hybrid design is a mix of fixed 2.5ghz wi-fi and fiber runs. With access to 2.5ghz signal, the fixed wi-fi can reach much farther and transmit through trees, which had challenged other wi-fi designs in the past. With the rugged geography of our reservation, fiber runs will be needed to reach the areas where the 2.5GHz signal just cannot reach. This will be the final phase of the broadband project and we hope to get this fiber work completed some time next year. We are working with several telecom companies and will be contracting with one of them to provide the connectivity of the system and to deploy the fiber.

I wanted to close this article by mentioning a couple other COVID-19 response projects that we are working on that are related to the broadband projects. These projects are the Wellpinit Clinic Fiber Line project and the Powwow Grounds Quarantine Facility Project.

Wellpinit Clinic Fiber Line Project:
The Wellpinit clinic’s network infrastructure is insufficient to the point that it is affecting the clinic’s ability to provide good health care for its clients. Tribal Planning is the liaison between CenturyLink, BIA, Realty, and Tribal Council to facilitate the project. The goal of the project is to construct a new underground fiber-line, which will greatly improve the network capability of the Clinic. CenturyLink will start construction and the project will be completed within 45 days.

Powwow Grounds Quarantine Facility Project ;
The Spokane Tribe is coordinating with the Spokane Indian Housing Authority to upgrade the Powwow Celebration grounds with the amenities to expand its use for as a quarantine facility during the COVID crisis. The Spokane Tribe is taking this crisis very seriously due to the overwhelming rates the Corona Virus is spreading within Washington State. This facility will have a new shower/bathroom facility, commercial kitchen and the ability to lodge several patients. The Tribe will be able to develop the Celebration grounds into a Quarantine Facility by November of this year.

Tribal leadership has prioritized the completion of these telecom projects in response to the COVID crisis and are meeting regularly with the Tribal staff tasked to get this work done. The Planning & Economic Development Department will be providing monthly updates in the Rawhide Press newspaper and will provide regular updates on the Planning & Rawhide Press Facebook pages. If you have any questions or comments on any of these projects, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of the project managers in this article and they will promptly get you answers. We want to wish everyone good health and to stay strong during this pandemic. We will get through this with a lot of diligence, patience and teamwork!
Written by: Frank Metlow, Planning & Economic Development Director and Member, Spokane Tribe of Indians