Following the recent launch of its Tidal Networks business, the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska plan to pilot fixed wireless internet service in the city of Wrangell, located on an island in the southeastern tip of the state.
Chris Cropley, network architect for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska. (Courtesy photo)
The tribe has partnered with coreNOC Inc., an Owasso, Okla.-based Native-owned tech company, to develop a 4G wireless solution targeting 100 megabit download and 20 megabit upload speeds for some 10,000 people in the greater Wrangell area.
“We’re in line for some hardware, we have a bunch of gear ordered and we’re hoping that shows up in the next 20 or so weeks,” Chris Cropley, a network architect for the tribe, told Tribal Business News. “That’s what’s driving our timeline right now.”
The rollout will use a fiber connection point in Wrangell to distribute a wireless signal across the “last mile,” reaching residents for whom hard-wired connections aren’t financially or geographically viable.
Cropley said the tribe began investigating the solution after securing 2.5 GHz broadband spectrum during a Federal Communications Commission licensing event in 2020 that gave federally recognized tribes access to the unused spectrum for free. Using that spectrum to reach homes, rather than building a fiber solution, could be fully funded using $15 million from the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation.
“With our current budget, and leveraging the spectrum, we found that leveraging the fixed wireless is the best way to get the most internet to the most people for the least amount of money in the least amount of time,” Cropley said.
CoreNOC CEO and co-founder Johnie Johnson, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, told Tribal Business News that the Wrangell buildout was a trial for developing internet services for other communities in the area.
“We’re looking at the late third quarter to roll this technology out for the trial, and then based on a successful trial, there will be a roll-out to other communities,” Johnson said. “Once (the Tlingit and Haida) feel comfortable with the trial in Wrangell, we will expand.”
Cropley said an eventual expansion of Tidal Network could target as many as 20 communities that face similar “middle mile” challenges. That expansion is pending word on $50 million in funding the tribe requested through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity program.
Notably, the program received more than $5 billion in requests for an initial $980 million in funding, as Tribal Business News previously reported. While the program has received another $2 billion allocation in the 2021’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, NTIA has not yet announced how much would be available in a second funding opportunity, or how much will be added to the initial pot.
“We’re just waiting to hear back on that,” Cropley said. “That program is pretty oversubscribed, though, so we expect there’s going to be a delay before we hear anything.”