Archive for January, 2016
SLOAT, CALIFORNIA—Plumas County is rural, mountainous, and at the far north of the Sierra Nevada Range. In area, it is larger than the individual states of Rhode Island and Delaware, but the population here is under 20,000. It all makes for a beautiful place to live, but some amenities that are common in more densely populated areas can be hard to come by.
High-speed Internet access that’s reliable across all seasons of the year is one clear example. In 2014, the local cable TV provider (New Day Broadband) went bankrupt, taking with it the only source for cable-based Internet access in the town of Quincy, California. It was also the only tethered high-speed provider accepting new customers. AT&T used to offer DSL in the area, but the company stopped taking on new clients and does not allow existing customers to transfer service. And while both satellite Internet access and multiple WISPs (wireless ISPs) are available, both of these delivery methods face reliability challenges in stormy, snowy weather (a common occurrence for this area in the winter).
With that in mind, you can imagine my surprise when in recent years I learned a local ISP—Plumas Sierra Telecommunications—now offers fiber to the doorstep. This new availability of reliable, high-speed Internet access allowed me to shift from an office job to telecommuting, meaning my wife and I could return to the rural Sierra Nevada after 15 years of living in the metropolis of Southern California.
An access point tower constructed by Tribal Digital Village overlooks Pala, California. (credit: Tribal Digital Village)
Recently, Sam Tenakhongva, a teacher living on the Hopi reservation in northern Arizona, bought a Chevrolet pickup truck equipped with integrated 4G LTE. As the company’s advertising boasts, the feature was novel for a commercial vehicle and unprecedented for a truck. Intrigued, Tenakhongva decided to take advantage of a free trial.
It didn’t take long for him to eschew the service. The truck only connected when Tenakhongva was in a 4G network and, given the region’s limited broadband access, Tenakhongva knew such an occurrence would be too rare to justify the cost.
Today, this situation rings true for an overwhelming majority of American Indians living on reservations. This year, the Federal Communications Commission reported that 41 percent of Americans living on tribal lands lacked access to broadband (which the FCC currently defines as 25Mbps for downstream speeds and 3Mbps for upstream speeds); that number leaps to 68 percent for those in rural areas of tribal lands.