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Wind River Receives FCC Grant To Expand Broadband Access

Savannah Maher

Northern Arapaho Tribal Industries has secured $4.1 million in federal funding to expand broadband access on the Wind River Reservation over the next decade.

The money comes from the Federal Communications Commision's Connect America Fund. It will allow Wind River Internet, a branch of Northern Arapaho Tribal Industries, to offer some of the best connectivity available to homes that telecommunication carriers normally wouldn't serve at all.

"On the Reservation, houses aren't a block apart, they're a mile apart," said Patrick Lawson, executive manager of Wind River Internet. "This allows us to have the infrastructure needed to getbroadband services to these extremely rural areas where otherwise, there's just no way to fund it."

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that just over half of Native Americans living on reservations have access to high-speed internet. On Wind River, Lawson estimates that fewer than one third of homes have a reliable internet connection. He said that improving internet access could help address some of the Reservation's unique challenges, such as its high unemployment rate.

"Without internet access, its even hard to apply for a job anymore. We get a lot of people applying for work with us that learned everything through YouTube videos. If you don't have internet access you're really left behind in the job market," Lawson said.

Wind River Internet will begin the expansion immediately, starting with installing broadband infrastructure for neighborhoods in Fort Washakie and Ethete.

The FCC, which also authorized funding for rural broadband providers in 15 other states, estimates that its support will benefit more than 800 homes the Wind River Reservation.

Savannah comes to Wyoming Public Media from NPR’s midday show Here & Now, where her work explored everything from Native peoples’ fraught relationship with American elections to the erosion of press freedoms for tribal media outlets. A proud citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, she’s excited to get to know the people of the Wind River reservation and dig into the stories that matter to them.
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