Imagine what it would be like if you could not send emails or surf the Web. For some Native and non-Native residents in a remote section of Northern California, not having access to the Internet is just part of everyday life in a rural community.
But not for long. A $12 million project to install an estimated 82.3 miles of fiber optic cable in five communities in Humboldt County could kick off as early as April. First stop—the town of Orleans.
“Internet access is the utility for the 21st century and it is not offered in Orleans, Calif., or any of the other communities we are going to serve,” Eric Cutright, IT director for the Karuk Tribe, told ICTMN. The Karuk Tribe is collaborating with the Yurok Tribe and California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) on this long-anticipated project known as the Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative (KRRBI).
In October 2013, the Karuk Tribe was awarded $6.6 million by the CPUC for the broadband project. Both the Yurok and Karuk Tribes will provide matching funds to satisfy terms of the grant.
The Federal Communications Commission estimates that less than 10 percent of residents on tribal lands have broadband access. “Communications in rural areas have always been difficult,” said Karuk Tribal Chairman Russell Attebery. “The project will help solve the communications problems we have faced.”
Currently, people in Orleans can only get on the Internet if they can afford satellite or have dial-up, and they don’t have cell service, either. The KRRBI will help the Orleans community in many ways, specifically with healthcare and education. “The Karuk Tribe operates the health clinic in town, so this fiber optic connection will give them access to electronic health records more quickly, and allow them to participate in high-definition video conferencing,” Cutright said.
Broadband access will also make schooling easier in the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District. According to a media source at the California State Board of Education, California schools will be converting to a new computer-based testing system this spring, which will pose a problem to towns with limited Internet access. “They have to bus Orleans students to another city to do all the standardized testing,” said Cutright. “And I can tell you just how well students are going to perform after spending three hours on a bus.”
Other towns the KRRBI will “light up” include Orick, Weitchpec, Wautec and Johnsons. Cutright said that after mandatory environmental surveys are completed, they would build out the other four towns in phases beginning in 2016. “We are deeply mired in all the permitting concerns right now with state and federal agencies,” he said.
The Karuk Tribe has also partnered with Native Link Communications for the fiber engineering and installation; and EnerTribe will help with project management and the environmental surveys. “We like working with Native-owned businesses because they understand the concerns of Indian country,” Cutright said.