Photo Essay: A view into a Tribal Broadband Bootcamp

As Americans from coast to coast observed Independence Day over the weekend, over the past year a number of this nation's indigenous tribes have been working towards the establishment of digital sovereignty in Indian Country. Here is a story on what have come to be called Tribal Broadband Bootcamps (TBBs).

The first was held over the July 4 weekend in 2021, covered here. The second was earlier this Spring in March of 2022. These photos are from Christopher Mitchell, with the selection of photos and text by Revati Prasad. For more information about these events, visit TribalBroadbandBootcamp.com.

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The second Tribal Broadband Bootcamp was held in March 2022 in Southern California. Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association (SCTCA) and long-time proponent of tribal broadband, once again hosted the group on his ranch, offering his “zombie bunker” for a series of hands-on trainings and conversations about the needs and approaches for connectivity in Indian Country.

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Like the inaugural bootcamp in July 2021, the agenda included trainings on wireless connectivity, both tactile and conceptual. Esther Jang, Nussara (Firn) Tieanklin (PhD Candidates at University of Washington), and Adam Burqa (Digital Steward with the Black Brilliance Research Project) lead a session on ethernet cable crimping. On the board are the rules for wire color order within the ethernet cable connectors.

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Network managers, technicians, administrative staff all received hands-on trainings. TBB’s approach is to ensure that networking technology is demystified and tribal communities are empowered to tackle building and running their own networks.

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Attendees - here folks from Yurok, Hoopa Valley, and Karuk tribes - also worked to set up a temporary LTE link on the ranch, testing the range and signal strength of the LTE connection far from the base station.

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Testing, 1-2. The LTE network at the Zombie Bunker set up Internet connectivity via a point-to-point wireless link from the main house, built by the attendees.

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Interspersed with the technical trainings, attendees discussed other essential aspects of connectivity. Here Niniau Kawaihae from the Department of Hawaiian Homelands leads a discussion about the needs for digital equity in her community.

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Abi Waldrupe of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (along with Angela Siefer, not pictured) led a session on digital inclusion and equity, inviting people who largely work on infrastructure to think more holistically about the barriers to Internet adoption and use. With support from Google, NDIA is working with AMERIND Critical Infrastructure to support Digital Navigators in tribal communities to lead digital inclusion work.

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In addition to wireless technologies, this bootcamp also included instruction on fiber technologies. Here, Shawn Trento, Telecommunications Manager of the Anza Electric Cooperative (Matt Rantanen’s local ISP) demonstrates fusion splicing. Attendees were able to hold and examine different different types of fiber and develop a foundational understanding of how fiber works.

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Bob Stovall, MERIT Network Vice President of Infrastructure Strategy & Research, demonstrates the typical fiber tags for both aerial and underground fiber, along with pole identifiers. MERIT, the state education and research network for Michigan manages extensive middle-mile infrastructure in the state and from that vantage point, Bob stressed the critical importance of clear documentation and cable management. Bob led many fiber-related trainings throughout the event.

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Helping tribal communities think beyond building the physical infrastructure to also stress running and sustaining that network, Deb Simpier, Cofounder and CEO of Althea Networks, lead a session on business development and the challenges of running a network.

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Individual tribal networks operate in a landscape shaped by policy and in a panel discussion some of the stalwarts of the field, talked about the history and policies of tribal broadband. From Left: Geoff Blackwell, the founding Chief of the Office of Native Affairs and Policy at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Irene Flannery, who also held several senior management positions in the FCC and at the Universal Service Administrative Company, Sascha Meinrath who founded the Open Technology Institute and X-Lab, and our host Matt Rantanen (only his arm pictured) provided a big picture look at the advocacy over the past twenty years that led to the recent historic federal investment in tribal broadband.

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Matt Rantanen (our host) & Geoff Blackwell, long-time collaborators and friends who have spent decades working together on broadband in Indian Country. TBBs close with a reflection session (not on camera), about what we learned from the experience and what we hoped to do going forward. The overwhelming consensus was about the importance of connections, human more than technical, that will ease our collective paths forward.

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Who is excited to go forth and tackle the challenges of tribal broadband?