MuralNet, a nonprofit that helps indigenous peoples to gain control of their internet access future and build their own wireless networks, today announced they are working with Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) to launch a Sustainable Tribal Networks program that is critical for indigenous communities to enable economic, health and educational opportunities. As part of this effort, Cisco will be providing financial support, technical and market expertise, and other company resources.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimated that 24.7% of non-Tribal rural households don't have access to a terrestrial internet service provider offering fixed broadband internet. That number more than doubles for Tribal rural households. This impacts the ability for children in Tribal communities to achieve higher levels of education, in addition to impeding essential community needs, such as communications, the deployment of emergency services and tele-health, the ability to seek economic opportunities and the preservation of Tribal culture.
"Internet access was always important, but COVID-19 is exacerbating the large divide between the connected and the unconnected," said Tae Yoo, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Cisco. "Now more than ever, the internet is critical for rural Tribal communities - it can connect them to vital health and educational services in the midst of the pandemic as well as provide them access to long-term economic opportunities. Together with MuralNet, we hope to help these communities build their own networks, while at the same time, help them build thriving and sustainable futures."
Working closely with MuralNet, Cisco will facilitate employee's helping to deploy state-of-the-art fixed-wireless access networks on Tribal lands that will enhance educational opportunities, deliver social and tele-health services and provide economic opportunities including infrastructure for remote workers, addressing the emergency needs of the COVID epidemic. In addition, Cisco will provide financial support, legal services and technical expertise, drive collaboration, and leverage its network for additional resources including volunteers to help these emergency networks to grow and become sustainable.
"Access to high-speed internet gives Tribal nations not just a path forward, but ownership of a vital resource that provides limitless potential for every Tribal community," said Martin Casado, Co-founder and COO, MuralNet. "It's a privilege to be working closely with Cisco to help ensure we connect every Tribal community in the United States."
Tribal Priority Window for 2.5GHz Spectrum
The FCC had originally licensed the mid-band 2.5GHz spectrum to educational institutions for free, which is commonly known as Educational Broadband Service (EBS). Over time the FCC permitted EBS licensees to lease its excess capacity while reserving a minimum of 5 percent for educational purposes. Meanwhile the FCC also determined that, to provide effective coverage and capacity to 5G, it was necessary to make more 2.5GHz spectrum available to commercial entities and began auctioning the licenses. After petitioning and testifying on Capitol Hill through the efforts of MuralNet, Tribal members and organizations the FCC voted in favor of a six-month Tribal Priority Window that ran from February 3 - August 3, 2020. Last month the FCC extended the deadline for 30 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the efforts of MuralNet and partner organizations, more than 300 of the 574 federally recognized Tribal communities have been able to successfully apply for the 2.5GHz spectrum license. MuralNet and its affiliates have created maps, written exhibits or submitted more than 100 of the applications that have been filed. They have given dozens of informational workshops, podcasts, webinars, and articles reaching tribal communities on almost 300 tribal lands.
COVID-19 Leads to Special Temporary Authority (STAs)
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC also began providing Special Temporary Authority (STA) licenses to Tribal communities. This enabled MuralNet to help Tribal communities establish connectivity to deliver much needed communications on updates related to COVID-19, establish emergency services and help children connect into online classrooms and complete homework assignments, including those who returned home from secondary schools and universities. This was especially important as Tribal communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, especially as it pertains to healthcare with chronic, debilitating and mental health issues on Tribal communities dramatically higher than the national average.
"The digital divide is a significant inhibitor to Tribal nations, not only because it limits educational opportunities for children, but also access to essential health and human services as well as the preservation of languages and cultures," said Bob Laliberte, networking practice director and senior analyst at ESG. "It's been great to learn about the impact that MuralNet has made over the last few years and the further impact that can be made by working hand-in-hand with Cisco and the tech community in Silicon Valley."
Sustainable Tribal Networks Program
In addition to emergency deployments with the help of MuralNet, Pueblos will be able to get assistance with residential deployments through Community Builds, a working group-centered incubator focused on building the internal capacity of Tribes to design, deploy, maintain and grow their own sustainable community networks. Through experimentation and refinement, participating Tribal communities are already providing valuable feedback, key learnings and reference architecture to accelerate deployments and help develop trainings for sustainable wireless networks for all Tribal communities across the United States.
"Students in tribal communities often have inconsistent internet access and struggle to attend online classes and submit assignments from home. For those who have reliable transportation, it might require them to drive an hour or more to utilize a hot spot in a parking lot. Internet that is available in Native communities is often expensive and offers limited bandwidth because it is shared with other services, especially during the pandemic," said Dr. Chad S. Hamill, vice president for Native American Initiatives at Northern Arizona University. "While STAs provide a temporary fix, the Sustainable Tribal Networks program is a long-term solution that meets a vital need for tribal communities across the Four Corners region and throughout the United States."
"For the Makah, any healthcare needs require us to travel for half a day to see a doctor in person, as we're located in the rainforest at the northernmost part of the United States at the northern tip in the state of Washington. Tele-health would allow us to get the health services we need without leaving the reservation," said Crystal Hottowe, grant writer of the Makah tribe. "We would also be able to establish more educational courses to share our heritage. This enables us to preserve our language and culture to share with future generations. This is just a few of the many benefits a sustainable network will provide."
"This is a moment of crisis and a huge opportunity. The struggles of tribal communities during COVID-19 reinforces why tribal broadband connectivity is so necessary. It gives us a path forward including access to vital needs such as healthcare, education and economic opportunities," said Governor Phillip Perez of Pueblo of Nambe. "The Sustainable Tribal Networks program is not only a path forward for the Pueblos but important to the future of hundreds of tribal nations throughout the United States."
"Around the world access to high-speed internet is no longer perceived as a convenience but a basic human right. The disparity of homes connected to high-speed internet on native lands versus the rest of America leaves tribal nations at a significant disadvantage," said Governor J. Michael Chavaria, of Santa Clara Pueblo and Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. "The Sustainable Tribal Networks program is a significant step forward in providing us with the same opportunities as the rest of America in today's digital age. COVID-19 underscores just how imperative it is that we get every home in tribal communities connected. We are facing significant challenges in communicating updates about the pandemic, establishing emergency and social services as we're further isolated during these unprecedented times."
Cisco Press Release: Cisco Helps to Bridge the Digital Divide in the U.S. with Rural Broadband Network Solutions for Service Providers Cisco Blog: An Unprecedented Opportunity FCC Details on Tribal Priority Window MuralNet.org: How to Claim Tribal 2.5GHz Spectrum MuralNet.org: How to Donate MuralNet.org: How to Volunteer
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MuralNet, a nonprofit started by software defined networking pioneer Martin Casado helps bridge this digital divide by providing infrastructure, consulting, financial, and educational resources so that Tribal nations and Tribally-controlled organizations can build their own networks. To learn more, visit https://muralnet.org/.
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Jin Woo 280blue for MuralNet email@example.com (510) 691-8862