Blackfeet Nation case study

  • Case
    • The Blackfeet Nation is a federally recognized tribe in Montana.
    • The process of getting quality technology to those living on the Blackfeet reservation is 20 years in the making.
    • Over half the tribe does not have broadband access. Installation would bring employment, faster services, allow ranchers to online pricing, provide a school-age child with additional resources, letting a remote community member use telehealth, and helping a local business reach customers outside of their community. 
    • The tribe has begun the third phase of their work, which will bring broadband to the communities of the Blackfeet Reservation using a fiber-optic network that will be wholly owned by the Tribe. 
      • Partnered with Siyeh Communications providing over 1,000 times more bandwidth and 100 times faster speeds. 
  •  Funding/ Support
    • 1997: dug the first landline for phones
    • 1999: The Siyeh Corporation formed as the business arm of the tribal council with the intent of separating business development from political influence
    • 2000: The Siyeh Corporation started a cable TV service throughout the Blackfeet region, marking the beginning of what would become the current telecommunications project
      • Siyeh joined forces with Turtle Island Communications, eventually managing to secure a $500,0000 grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community out of Minnesota, which helped Siyeh acquire the Browning Telephone Exchange from 3 Rivers Cooperative, including its rights to provide telecoms services in the area. 
    • 2012: Tribe entered into an agreement with CommunityTel to be included in an ARRA grant that provided a “middle mile” infrastructure that would span the Blackfeet Reservation. 
      • Tribal Council negotiated owner-ship of 12 “dark fibers” as part of that infrastructure through an IRU agreement
    • 2015: Ronan Telephone wrote Blackfeet their application for a $13.5 million ARRA grant for broadband on the reservation
    • $500,000 funding donated from The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community 
    •  $38.6 million in CARES Act funding, $7.5 million of which went to the telecoms project
  • Strategies for success 
    • Building Educational Success
      • Browning Public Schools and the Blackfeet Community College implemented “distance learning” this fall 
      • The decision requires navigation as many students don’t have internet access or a computer at home.
      • According to the 2014-2018 American Community Survey, only 51% of households on the Blackfeet Reservation had broadband access. 
      •  Schools will offer jetpacks or devices that boost signal for families without internet. 
      • The Blackfeet Community College is considering distributing hotspots to boost internet connection or having an outdoor space near the school where students can safely connect to WiFi
    • Securing Funding
      • Turtle Island Communications Inc. contracted to design the system and engineer a plan for the buildout. 
        • Turtle Island Communication is 100% Indian-owned, and has experience assisting Tribes who play a major role in voicing concerns for changing FCC federal policy.
      • The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, from Minnesota, has shown great support by donating $500,000 to assist us with the first phase of building out the fiber-optic network
      • Partnership with Siyeh Communications merged with Starlink Cable and Oki Communications.

Key Themes: Education – Reliance –  Tribal Infrastructure – Engagement – Motivation

Issues: Telehealth – Educational Success – Employment

Strategies: Securing Funding – Partnerships

Forms of Access: Tribe owned Fiber optic network