The Nez Perce Tribe is in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon on 750,000 acres of reservation.
The wireless network came out of a need for better connectivity between the government offices as connectivity was so poor it took entire days to send emails, remote offices were unable to transmit large amounts of data. They relied on bundled T1s and homes still relied on dial-up connections.
2000: The Nez Perce started to deploy fiber where the tribal headquarters are located and connected 18 locations and added additional fiber over subsequent years to connect more communities and remote facilities.
2009: the Nez Perce tribal law enforcement were looking to connect their five towers, including some that were rather remote leading to wireless connection.
2012: the network still proved to be insufficient.
The wireless network was set up and run entirely as a tribal utility, supported by the Nation and focused on delivering needed services.
Nez Perce Networks began selling service to home customers, local businesses and government/city entities, and leased tower space to cellular companies to improve cellular service on the reservation.
The tribe did a lot of research when the federal government made available funding programs for high-speed Internet service, including the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
They applied for a BTOP and were not selected until the second round and built a wireless ring around the reservation with 23 towers and co-located facilities on 12 additional towers.
Combined funding from the Idaho Gem Grant Program and USDA Community Connect grant developed multiple towers.
Funding and Expansion in total, the network cost an estimated $23 million.
Strategies for success for this project
Funding: Successful research is required as many programs have specific requirements about profitability and return on investment, but Indian Country does not always fit these standard models. Applying for funding through the USDA can also be difficult because the USDA has a non-compete clause restricting the number of funded USDA areas.
Private Internet Service Providers may choose to overlook Indian Country because they do not want to navigate the Rights of Way and meet the standards for local training and employment through the Tribal Employment Rights Offices.
It is hard to get commercial loans because tribes cannot collateralize federal lands. The USDA is often the main loan source for broadband services in Indian Country.
Acknowledgment of past crimes: When the US discovered gold on the tribe's land in 1863 they forced the tribe to sign a treaty cutting down their reservation size and allowing settlers to come and steal resources. Later, the federal government again attempted to reduce the lands through the Allotment Act. This creates mistrust in working with the US government and often times needs to be addressed in order to move forward
Public-private partnerships with local governments and cell phone companies were critical to access the towers they needed.
The Native Nation had to draw on a variety of programs to find the funding for all the projects: ARRA BTOP, USDA programs like Community Connect, RBOG, RBEG; the Idaho Gem Grant Program and the Idaho Broadband Grant.