IRVING – The Seneca Nation took an important step this week to bridge the significant digital divide experienced by residents at a time when fast and reliable online access is crucial for education, health, safety and economic success overall.
Work has begun on the initial phase of construction of the nation’s new broadband network, funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Construction crews are suspending strands and completing underground work along Route 438 in Cattaraugus territory. In the coming weeks, they will begin work on central office and data center locations to support the network before suspending more than 52 miles of fiber optic cable.
Overall, construction is expected to take three to four months. In addition to the fiber optic network, the Nation is also establishing high-speed wireless Internet service for the communities of Gordon Garrow and Buffalo Road.
When all work is complete, more than 1,200 homes, businesses and buildings across the Nation, serving approximately 4,500 residents, will have access to reliable high-speed internet service for the first time in Seneca history – a development that continues to grow. long overdue.
“Our territories and our residents, including generations of Seneca students, have been left behind without basic services that are readily available in other communities,” said Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels. “We’re 40 miles from New York’s second largest city, but we’ve been forced to live in a digital wilderness. Bringing connectivity to underserved people is a critical endeavor that will dramatically improve their ability to access services and information for years to come.
As high-speed Internet access has become commonplace elsewhere, residents, businesses, and government and community facilities across the Seneca Nation have had to make do with low-speed wireless service and less than adequate satellite service. .
Some of the underserved facilities include the Nation Administration Building, Cattaraugus Indian Reservation Volunteer Fire Department, Early Childhood Learning Center, Library, Utilities and Utilities, and Community Center , among others.
The challenges presented by this lack of service were exacerbated during the pandemic when precautions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 forced virtually all interactions into virtual space.
“When classes got distant, some students had to sit outside the library or businesses in the area looking for a WiFi signal just to do their schoolwork,” Pagels said. “Even from a government perspective, trying to hold virtual meetings has created a very frustrating situation for our community. “
Building the nation’s broadband network has taken years. In 2019, the nation received a $ 4.5 million grant from the USDA’s ReConnect pilot program to support the effort. The Nation itself is investing an additional $ 5 million, including about $ 3 million in funds received under the American Rescue Plan Act, to make the network a reality.
It took a lot of work to pave the way for this week’s construction milestone. In addition to months of designing, engineering and sourcing the fiber optic cables, teams had to complete major pre-construction work, including removing trees and replacing 260 utility poles.
The online service will be available in phases, as construction is completed, with the first users coming online in early 2022. The Nation is partnering with Fredonia-based telecommunications company DFT Communications to offer a selection residential and commercial service plans, with download speeds ranging from 100 Mbps to 500 Mbps, which is significantly faster than the Federal Communications Commission broadband standard of 25 Mbps and will allow multiple users in each household to stream and download simultaneously without service interruption.
“We are on the cusp of another exciting day,” added Pagels. “With this transformational investment, the Nation will be able to permanently and forever break down digital barriers and bridge the digital divide that has existed for far too long.”