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Ask Me Anything! With Joe Valandra

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Oct 14, 2022

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About Our Distinguished Guest

For the last year, Joe Valandra has served as the senior vice president of Tribal Communications, LLC.

Joe works to help tribal groups find future-proof, broadband solutions to the connectivity problems facing their communities. A member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, Joe is uniquely qualified to understand the  issues facing these communities. 

Joe received his JD from University of Minnesota Law School and his Bachelor’s from University of South Dakota.

Event Transcript

Scott Dismore: And we're live. Good afternoon and welcome to the latest edition of Ask Me Anything on broadband.money. My name is Scott Dinsmore, I'm the Vice President of Tribal Relations here at broadband.money and ready.net. I also co-chair my own tribe, the Pakan'Yani Maidu Of Strawberry Valley Rancheria, it's located in Northern California. Today, I'm joined with Mr. Joe Valandra, who's the Senior Vice President of Tribal Communications. Very excited for this Ask Me Anything with you Joe. It's connecting tribal communities and assessing their needs in high quality broadband access is so very, very important, really looking forward to speaking with yourself with so much experience. If you wouldn't mind, take a moment and just tell us about yourself, your background and some of the great work you're doing in Indian country.

Joe Valandra: Sure. Thank you, Scott. I'm very happy to be here this afternoon too, I've been looking forward to this for some time. Hello, everybody, I'm Joe Valandra. I am a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe from South Dakota. I grew up in South Dakota. I went to undergraduate college at the University of South Dakota and to the University of Minnesota Law School. I've lived and worked around Washington DC now for the last 20 years and have worked in Indian country for almost double that, I hate to give away my age, but almost 40 years, over 35 years working in various aspects of Indian country, mostly with economic development, some in Indian gaming, in fact quite a long career in Indian gaming, but also worked in ADA contracting and other kinds of developments for tribes and have had an interest in broadband for over a decade for tribes. Started with the American Reinvestment Act under President Obama, put together five different projects with the five different tribes to try to bring broadband to Indian country back then.

Joe: Unfortunately, those projects weren't funded, and things or the world has moved on. But now, we're in a new world, and I've been now with Tribal Communications for just a little over a year, just a few days over a year, and have rekindled my commitment, my zest, my zeal, for tribal broadband. Tribal Communications is native-owned, our mission and our goal, our whole vision is to facilitate bringing high speed broadband to all of Indian country with all of the attendant benefits that come with that, we'll talk more about that. But the economic development opportunities, better healthcare, better education and just better overall ability to communicate and positively impact lives and livelihoods in Indian country. So in less than 10,000 words, I hope that's a good start.

Scott: No, that's perfect. Thank you, Joe. If we could just kinda kick us off, I wanna unpack the... Something that you had just brought up with respect to healthcare, education and economic opportunity. Because you and I, we've talked to, I don't know how many tribes, countless tribes right now as of today across this country and Alaska. And those are three items that circulate quite a bit. Now, from my perspective, I would say healthcare kind of equates to telehealth in this context, having that broadband access. And I'm thinking of a tribe that I've communicated with quite a bit up in the Northwest. Very remote, really no discernible internet access to speak of. And for those folks, it was a couple hour trip into the city to maybe or maybe not see a doctor. And in some cases, they wouldn't see anybody and have to drive home. So I'm just... From your own discussions and things of that nature, I'm wondering how important is that telehealth access in this case? 

Joe: Well, I don't think it can be over-emphasized. That was... Part of the motivation 10 years ago unfortunately continues to be the same motivation today. The story you just told, Scott, isn't unusual in Indian country, where most reservations are remote, have an hour's-long trip to a city center of some kind, a regional healthcare center. Even if there is an IHS hospital or IHS clinic on the reservation, they often can't handle emergency situations, certainly most kinds of surgery and those kinds of things. So people do have to travel. And my home reservation is a good example of that, a similar story, there's two hours-plus to a hospital, to a major hospital from Rosebud. And it negatively impacts healthcare.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: Now, telehealth has a lot of different connotations. But I think one of the great things today, both with the availability of high-speed broadband, and I mean true high speed broadband, 100 gigabytes up and 100 gigabytes down or more, really facilitates a diagnostic part of telehealth that hasn't always been there. In that imaging, other diagnostic tools can take place in real-time. The doctor can be anywhere in the world really, and it can be a world-renowned expert. And through the tools that are now available, it brings... As I said, diagnostic tools, but a lot of other things. So healthcare isn't so remote, and that's one of the great benefits of what we're doing, or what we hope will happen when we're done doing this.

Scott: Yeah. And just in... A few of the stories that I've heard of is just it could cut right through to so many folks. And I've been on calls where people are trying to position... 'Cause there's so much remote equipment nowadays, whether it's monitoring for diabetes or heart arrhythmias and things of that nature. Which are all well and good, but if you don't have that broadband access, it kind of is a moot point. So obviously, we're working towards that.

Joe: And, Scott, there's another part of healthcare that often isn't talked about, and that's mental health. Through true high-speed broadband, where you can have a connection like we have today, and you can be one-on-one in a private setting, a counselor, a therapist, those kinds of therapeutic treatments are available then for people on the reservation or in remote locations. And that can really have, I think, a positive impact on the mental health of the overall community.

Scott: Without a doubt, without a doubt. The other aspect, and again, as COVID kind of exposed, if you will, this... The connectivity with respect to education and obviously the young ones. I know of instances where reservations, right now in 2022 rely on their cell phone for internet access and a hotspot. And if it's not their cell phone, it's a local... Perhaps a library or a McDonald's parking lot. So obviously, this becomes a real game changer for the next generation. And I know you've... I'm preaching to the choir in that sense. But secondary education as well, I think it just opens up a lot of doorways, and in a really good way.

Joe: Well, yeah. You've hit the highlights of keeping... When there's a health crisis, like we did... Like we're just coming out of we hope, and... Or other kinds of natural disasters, or just you're just a long way from... Again, from an educational hub, high-speed broadband with the right connections can get you a college education, can get you certified to do a lot of other things, and thereby improving your life, improving the community's life and making sure that the livelihood of the community, which is their health and their education, are taken care of at a foundational level. It's very important.

Scott: Fundamental.

Joe: It's incredibly important.

Scott: Absolutely. And then the third leg is obviously the economic opportunity. If you can kinda give me your perspective on what it would mean economically to a reservation that has had little or no access at all to the internet. In your words, what does that mean? 

Joe: Well, it will be revolutionary, I guess, in many ways, maybe other words other than that. But not only is it the ability to build an online business, which is... Small businesses are the... You hear it all the time in campaigns, but it's actually statistically true, small businesses are the largest employers, are the real growth engine for most of the economy. It may not seem like it all the time, but they are. So the internet high-speed broadband will give the opportunity for entrepreneurs to start their business wherever they are, whether they're selling a good, or they have services that they wanna bring to the market. But it also does other things. For example, the world now, we see it because we're doing this right now, is based on or is really built on data transfer. So there are data centers all over the world.

Joe: And most of us, on this call anyway, certainly know that if you buy something from Amazon, or you do a search on Google, or you... Those are the two major ones, but there's Microsoft, there's many others. They have huge databases, or data storage places, where they access that, and other businesses have their servers housed. And for economic efficiency, for redundancy, security, you name it, data centers are all over the place. And this would open the opportunity for tribes to host data centers of all different types and kinds. That hasn't been there before, because there hasn't been the connectivity to do that before. And other businesses that I can't even think of that are based on the web or just the ability to communicate your idea, you'll now have an opportunity to communicate your ideas, your thoughts, to the world. That's exciting.

Scott: Absolutely. Yeah. It's just opens up an infinite amount of doorways to opportunity, which I love. All right, so moving on to another topic here in mapping, specifically the impact of the FCC fabric on tribal BEAD funding. I know this is a very hot topic for yourself, but if you could just to kind of elaborate a bit more.

Joe: Well, I'll try to keep it focused, because it's kind of one of those topics that can take up a lot of space.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: But I'll try to do it simply, and it simply it boils down to two things. In the laws that were passed by Congress that created the funding for the current broadband opportunities in Indian country that are administered by the NTIA. Let's just pick out the biggest program, the BEAD program that has $42.5 billion to disperse. And the basis for that, for those dispersals, besides the application process, is going to be the FCC's map that says... That shows what is served and unserved in the US. That map is built primarily on reports from existing providers. They call it a 477 report, and the FCC puts that all together, shows on their map what the service providers indicate is served or unserved areas. And that is the map that has been used for years, but now it takes on more importance for Indian country, because those allocations will definitely impact how much money is available for tribes through programs other than the tribe will set aside. And we're gonna leave that in a separate topic. Right now you say, "Okay, that even that's a little bit technical," and it is. But the FCC's gathering data now. And they're not calling it mapping any more, they're calling it a fabric. It's kind of a modern term, because the seamless web is a fabric or something like that. But those maps that the NTIA must by law use to allocate its funds based on the applications will have a negative impact on tribes.

Joe: Because historically, not only are the... Have people smarter than me showing that those FCC maps are up to 70% inaccurate. When it comes to tribes, tribes are by and large, if you see those maps left out, they're just a hole in the map, which is assumed to be unserved, underserved. Or in many cases... And I'm not accusing anyone here, but in many cases, the provider that may be in a tribal area reports speeds and service from its best location. So it appears that there is service, or that it's not underserved, that there's adequate service when there's really not. And there's no audit process. There's no way to dispute that. So, as a result, as I'll say, when the funds are allocated from NTIA to the states, there's going to be gaps and from Indian country's point of view, it's gonna leave a lot of Indian country out.

Joe: Now, luckily, Scott, there is a way for Indian country to react to this, besides being indignant or angry about it. You can be those things too. But under the law, the states also have to create their own maps, separate and apart from the FCC. Now they're gonna use the FCC fabric as a starting point. But under NTIA's regulations, they have mandated that states create their own served and unserved areas on their maps. So, some states are conducting their own surveys, some aren't. But, that's where the opportunity for tribes comes in to play a role in gathering that data, providing data to the states. So the tribes are more certain to be included in the state maps which means that when the state reallocates whatever money it gets from NTIA that it will be based on a more fair mapping.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: So, as I say, I'm trying to keep it simple. It's a little more complicated than that, but that's really what it boils down to. If tribes are not aware of this, they need to be. And I've been advocating for this for a while, as you know, and I'm gonna continue to get on top of my soapbox every chance I get.

Scott: Absolutely.

Joe: To bring this up. But there are things that tribes can do to help with this. And I'll talk about one of the solutions later but I'll stop right now, Scott, so you can...

Scott: Okay. Well, that kind of pivots us into what we've been calling tribal data sovereignty. And, there's a lot of discussion about self determination, and I've been a part of calls, listening in on a variety of different conference calls in the tribal sector, if you will. And, I'm not gonna name states or companies, but I was on one call in particular, and the gentleman was talking about, I don't wanna say the word surveillance, but it was like surveillance, with respect to drones and LiDAR and things of that nature. And there were some tribal folks on the phone and they asked, "Who gave you permission?" And the gentleman was more or less talking about the state gave them access, if you will. And they really did not engage the tribe nor the reservation at all.

Scott: And I know that's a big point of contention is like, you've gotta ask permission. You've gotta talk to the tribe, you've gotta talk to the council. You gotta go through these iterations of permission to do that analysis, 'cause ultimately, the tribe wants to own that information and then let you into that wall garden, if you will, for lack of a better term, and then determine what they release in terms of information. So as we're talking about mapping and things and that hole that you referenced on the map, what do you think is the best way to navigate that river, if you will? 

Joe: Well, as in all things, my opinion is that, the tribes need to be in control of that data flow. That is the way to fill that gap is through what's called speed testing, and as you know, Scott, we've jointly, our two companies, Tribal Communications and ready.net have developed what we're calling a tribal community toolkit that will allow tribes to do their own speed tests, have the residents on their reservation log into a website whether it's on their phone or their computer or whatever, however they access the internet.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: And that test will indicate what... A whole bunch of technical stuff, but basically is there service or not service, or what kind of service is there if there is service? But the tribe will be in control of that. Now, what I mean by that is, our tool, which will be introduced in the marketplace here very shortly, will gather all the data for the tribe, but the tribes will control that data. We've very carefully put together a privacy policy and a use policy that is really driven entirely by the tribes. There'll be no individual locations reported, everything will be aggregated so that, again, other Rosebud Reservation will have their aggregated data about service or served unserved and other data that comes from that aggregated together.

Joe: It may be by regions of the reservation because it's such a big reservation, there may be different pockets of served and unserved, but it won't identify any particular individual household or any other identifier that that could target that data back to an individual. And then how that data is used will be entirely up to the tribe, because it'll be aggregated. It'll be easier to use because as I say, no one does... There'll be no identifiers there, but how the tribe uses it will be up to them, and how we expect that they might use it is to go to the states and say, "Don't leave us off your map. Here's our data." And, that's the most important use for it. But there'll be other uses for tribal governments and for their agencies, that is tribal agencies to use this data to better shape their own policies, their own plans.

Scott: Oh, that's awesome. Yeah. To take a step and kind of zoom out if we will, approximately how many folks in Indian country do you think are, last statistics anyways are going without viable internet? There are some cases where there's a little bit of a signal, but what's the percentage you have? 

Joe: Well, the country overall... I'll start there.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: Sort of a big macro number is it... It has service in the 96% overall that's blending everybody together. You go into rural areas, they tend to be... Service has gotten better in the last 10 years, but it tends to be in the 70-80% range, is sometimes higher. But if you go to an Indian reservation itself, again, depending on the part of the country that you're in, but if you're in a remote location, your likelihood of having access to high speed broadband, is about half of what your non-tribal neighbors would have. So if the communities around you that are off the reservation are having access at about 70-80%. It's more than likely that the tribes will be at the 50% they're 40-50% range.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: But then, but more importantly than that is the speed. And you hit on that in your, in your question. Many, you may be able to log into the internet in the middle of the Rosebud Indian Reservation, but you won't be able to... It's not likely you're gonna be able to conduct a conversation like this that is, some sort of video chat is just not going to, there's not gonna be enough speed to allow you to do that. The download speeds, the upload speeds are very, very slow. So I could quote you specific percentages, but I don't wanna do that. I think the bottom line is that tribes are underserved or unserved disproportionately even to their, even to the surrounding communities.

Scott: Yep. Yeah. And to that point, a friend of mine who happens to live on an island off the coast, very poor broadband service in general, but ultimately what he had told me was, he goes, if I were to send him a PDF, he would have to click on it, click download, and then walk away for about five minutes.

Joe: Yeah.

Scott: So that's kind of what they were used to. So that's kind of, I guess, part and parcel to what we're kind of seeing on the reservations on a grander scale.

Joe: And then, Scott, there's another aspect to that question that, again, isn't always talked about. It's being addressed in the some of the monies available from the federal government. And that's adoption. I mean, there's two things. It may be available, but you probably can't afford to buy it if you're on the reservation, because in the last statistics that I was able to find, almost 30% of natives live in poverty. Which is double what the rate is for the rest of the country.

Scott: Right.

Joe: In fact, on reservations themselves, it can be as high as 40-50% live in, under the, the national poverty rate. And overall the national poverty rate is only 9.2%. So it's 4-5 times more. And so the, the point of that, and the overall, the umbrella word is adoption. If it's not affordable, then it doesn't matter if it's available or not, number one.

Scott: Yep.

Joe: And number two, if you've never used it before, you need some help figuring out how to use it. I mean, I use it every day, so it's just like, I'm no genius, but it works for me most of the time.

Joe: But if you've never used it before, you've never had access before, it... There needs to be some work on adoption. And luckily, again, I was just badmouthing the FCC kind of, but there's a program going that is administered by the, by the FCC, of the Affordable Connectivity Program, ACP program that really helps with that affordability.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: Again, but the, but the adoption rate of that is too low. And so we're working on plans to try to increase that so that people who want, especially on reservations who want the service but can't afford the service, can get this subsidy for, for a family on, on an Indian Reservation, the subsidy is $75 a month and, that should help a great deal, get people connected if it's available, our first step is to make it available.

Scott: Yes.

Joe: Make it affordable, and then help people buy it.

Scott: And then there's one other component there too. If you do qualify, you get $100 towards a, some sort of piece of equipment now.

Joe: Right.

Scott: $100 is not gonna buy you the, the nicest laptop or computer out there. However, through other programs, you may be able to get an iPad or something of that nature. But it's nice ancillary benefit and I'm glad you brought that up. That's... That's, that's awesome.

Joe: Yeah and it goes back to, looking back at COVID again, even if the, if, high speed broadband had been available, and it wasn't, if you didn't have, if you didn't have a device to connect to, your kids still couldn't go to school. So it's important that through the $100 and you're right, there are other programs to help with adoption. There's, there are companies that are making special provisions so that, so that families can get at least an iPad or some type of laptop so that, that connectivity is there. So in, let's, let's hope it never happens again, but if there's another health emergency and you have to stay home.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: Not only do you have high speed broadband now, but you have the device to connect to it.

Scott: You have the equipment. Right? 

Joe: Yeah.

Scott: Okay. So, before we dive into, because there's been questions posed by the audience that I made some notes on, but before we dive there, I wanna talk a little bit first about tribal ISPs in tribal consortiums. Again, back to self-determination and you kind of, if the money that's coming through the pipeline here allows a tribe to kind of begin the process of creating an ISP. Now, some tribes are way ahead of the curve. They're, and you and I both know of a few of them, where they already have an ISP and they have a fixed wireless kind of solution. Now they're looking at fiber solutions. But, I wanna get your thoughts in terms of the creation of that tribal ISP and kind of how it, how it dovetails into that self-determination.

Joe: Sure. Be happy to talk about that. I think one of the, I will say one of the reasons I'm involved with tribal communications is our goal, my goal, we share a goal is to create a future for tribes when it comes to broadband and technology that they control. One of the ways to control that, after all this investment is said and done, is to be in charge of your own internet service provider. Own it a 100%, partner with someone, but have control over it without that long term vision of controlling how the service is provided, how it's priced, how technology is addressed for tribes going forward.

Joe: The vision of technological sovereignty for tribes won't be met. This is an opportunity right now to offer tribes to take into account all those factors and see if an ISP is right for them. They may have a great service provider that they have a great relationship with right now. Fantastic. But I would still take a look at it, look at your options, not just today or next year. Look at your options five and 10 years from now as technology changes. You probably want to be in control of that if you can. And there are ways to do that. Now you also brought up the idea of tribal consortiums, tribes working together.

Scott: Yes.

Joe: Now, even though there's a lot of money out there, there's a set aside of $3 billion for tribes to begin to bridge the digital divide. Pull fiber, connect homes.

Scott: Yeah. Yep.

Joe: Which is a lot of money, but it's not nearly enough. It's not nearly enough money. And this is one of those industries that the economies of scale are... There's great benefit to it. So the larger your network, the more people connected to your network, the more cost-effective you can be in providing that service. AT&T Verizon, look at those models, although I wouldn't wanna necessarily use those as examples for tribes, but just the example of scale is there. So when tribes in a region in a state, in an area cooperate, put their money together, if they can, go to the state for... Because I said there's $42.5 billion that's gonna be distributed among the states to accomplish the same thing that tribes are getting 3 billion for. So there's money in the BEAD program, specifically, and it's supposed to be for underserved and unserved areas, tribes in many states are the areas.

Joe: So they can supplement the whatever amount they're getting from NTIA if any, by getting money from the state. And by working together. Two or more tribes working together, you're gonna create the economies of scale that I had mentioned. You're gonna leverage your political connections. You're gonna create a network that is really sustainable for the long run, and it will benefit the entire region, not just the tribal areas, not just Indian country, but all the communities surrounding it. And we know that as everybody benefits around you, it's a bigger benefit. So, I'm an advocate of tribes considering looking seriously at forming consortiums to work together in particular, to get as much of the BEAD money from the state they're in as they possibly can.

Scott: Yeah, that's fantastic. And it also brings to light the job creation that's behind it. So, it's a perfect segue. We've got a question here from a gentleman by the name of Derek Fine. "Where are the labor education gaps, if any?" So that in my mind, that brings to light the subject of technical training, because there's gonna be a need from everybody from customer service, to line splicers, to people on the poles, to operations centers, center folks. Like, there's just so many opportunities baked in here. And I'd love to get your take on that.

Joe: Yeah. As tribal communications has been thinking about the future, not... One of the glaring deficiencies in... For the whole industry for the whole telecommunications industry, is the lack of trained people at all the levels you talked about, from customer service to service technicians, maintenance technicians, people who splice the wires, people who dig the ditches to put the cable in, and then know how to maintain that.

Scott: Software.

Joe: Yeah. There's a... Yeah, there's a huge deficiency in the number of people available. And you can imagine if that's true for the industry overall, it's particularly acute for tribes. And because our goal is for tribes to own and operate long term these networks, they need to begin now to build, to find the people who want to be trained and train them today, start today, don't wait till tomorrow because that's how fast this is gonna be upon us. Now you say, how do we do that? 

Joe: Well, there are workforce development programs provided for in some of the government funding that's coming out today. There are other programs through, if you're a service vet, there are programs that will help train service vets to do this. In fact, there's specific companies that do that. We're partnered with one of those companies. So they can help us learn how to bring this workforce development to Indian country. So there is a need. It's a great question. We're putting together our piece of the puzzle, but we won't solve the whole problem. We need others to think about this and ways to get tribal people trained so they can work at home, be at home service, the networks that are being built and that's another form of economic development that will pay dividends into the future.

Scott: Absolutely. Got another question here hot off the press from a Shane Cannon, "Is it your understanding that the ACP subsidy could apply for bundled services to include video, make television more affordable, similar to cable subsidy?" So what are your thoughts on that, Joe? If you need me to repeat it, I can.

Joe: That's not my understanding. My understanding it's specifically for broadband service. But, I have to say that I didn't look into it from that point of view. I was looking at it purely from the broadband standpoint. So it's possible. But I don't know that, and I guess it would depend on how the bundle is constructed.

Scott: Right. That's what I think.

Joe: If the bundle is constructed with broadband being the primary component and other things are wrapped around it, and perhaps it would apply, and it really depends too. It's on a provider by provider basis. So if the provider of your broadband is not your provider of your television service or your phone service, then that wouldn't apply. So I know that's not a very satisfying answer. I'll tell you, I'll look into it more and look for a posting on broadband.money in particular in the tribal community. And, I'll try to get a better answer if there is one.

Scott: Awesome. Thank you Joe. Another question here from Adam Puckett. "How does tribal communications help solve the two-sided marketplace problem of connecting tribes who want their communities connected but don't know where to start to operators who wanna build networks for tribal communities, but don't know where to start?" So we're trying to bring together two worlds here.

Joe: Yeah. Well, that's a lot... That's how Indian country works. That's how services provided today in that two-sided marketplace. In that in many places there's... In fact there's some statistics from the FCC now, at least in their preliminary mapping, so you can take it for what it's worth, but that there is only one provider in many tribal areas, sometimes there's two. And again, generalising, I'm not saying this is always the case, but in many cases, the service provider that's there, when there's only one, has not been probably the most attentive service provider to the community. So you start with kind of a... As you say two-sided, you're standing across the table, or across the river from each other, yelling at each other, how do we get along and yet you haven't really tried to build a bridge across the river? 

Scott: It's a great analogy.

Joe: So how do you start that? 

Scott: Right.

Joe: I think you start that... You're forced sometimes, and this money's forcing at least the analysis or the question that you asked, Adam, that where do we start? And that's where... And again, I'm not just promoting my company, there's other consulting companies.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: But that's where we start, we help the tribal community analyse what they need and who they could possibly do it with, and of course the existing providers, one of the options that the tribe has. So it's really finding a way to cross the river, and that sometimes you have to knock down a few hurdles to get there. I'm not suggesting that it's easy because it's probably not going to be easy in any circumstances, but you've gotta start and the amount of money that's flowing into broadband right now should be motivation further at least to be a conversation.

Scott: Absolutely. Yeah, and it makes me think of... As you talk, I have these stories that kinda pop up as conversations that I've had, that we've had with a variety of different tribes. And to that point, every instance seems to be a little bit different. In some cases, it was just purely middle mile, in other cases, it was like we're already set up here, we just need this one little extra kinda bump or in one case in particular, they weren't really sure where to begin at all, so it's kind of everything's very subjective in that sense with everything...

Joe: Well, and there's another component to that, Scott, and I know you see it too.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: Due to COVID primarily, but also the great need overall, a lot of money came into Indian country in the last three years, just a tremendous amount of money and programs, and tribes are small governments, but they are governments, they're sovereign governments, they make their own decisions, but they're under-resourced right now, that meaning not money-wise necessarily, but to have the staff and expertise to help them figure out what to do next, what well as the question implies and as you just said, Scott, where do I start? And that's where companies like ours come into play, that we help them, help tribes find a place to start, and then if we're lucky, we're able to give them some direction so that they move in their best interest wherever they decide to go, but that's the lack of resources, meaning staff and expertise is a real issue for most of the new country, and that's why we're here trying to bridge some of that gap.

Scott: Absolutely. Now, Jase Wilson asked about what unique challenges do tribes face and how does Tribal Communications help tribes solving that? You definitely touched upon a number of 'em, but does any particular challenge stand out in your head, in your mind with respect to the conversations we had? 

Joe: Yeah, well I just mentioned about the lack of resource in Indian country that's probably unique, but I think a lot of small communities that have gotten money are seeing the opportunity to get government money to build up broadband or other things that are facing some of that too, but tribes are more unique that way, but I think the unique challenge is many misperceptions about tribes, what they are, who they are, how they govern themselves, how are they different from me. Those are things that are not unique to today's challenge with broadband but they're the unique challenge tribes have faced forever, and that continues to today. That was certainly the case back when I was working on Indian gaming projects as well, how do we work with these tribes? Well, you work with them by treating them with respect just as you wanna be treated with respect, but I think that's probably by far the most unique challenge that tribes have, it's just not many people understand who, what, where, and why tribes are.

Joe: And that's a communication issue that certainly I work on, or try to work on everyday myself through how I conduct myself and how I talk to people, but that... Jase, I would say that's the biggest challenge of all.

Scott: Sure, and we definitely hit some artery here, the questions are coming in fast and furious, which is great to see, so thank you everybody for doing that. I'm gonna bring up this next question because I've heard it in different iterations here. Drew Clark, "Do you see fibre or wireless solutions as the primary opportunity for tribal broadband and subsequently how well fibre and wireless work together or conflict?"

Joe: Well, I think they're the same solution, they're one and the same in my view. You can't have successful wireless deployment without fibre in the ground, without the backhaul, without the redundancy that a fibre brings, so I think fibre will enhance a wireless rollout, I don't... If... In my mind, if you're looking at it as one or the other, you're not looking at it properly.

Scott: Right.

Joe: Because technology as we know... 5G, and there's already talk of 6G, 7G, 8G, I'm gonna be dead before the 8G comes up probably.

Scott: Me too.

Joe: But that's going to be... And is becoming the fastest and most mobile way to deliver internet connections, because the technology allows for... I'm not gonna get into the... It allows for faster speeds to transfer more data, I'm not... I was gonna get into a technical term and that would have been stupid, so I'm not gonna do that.

Joe: But without fibre in the ground, that's impossible to happen.

Scott: Sure.

Joe: So I don't see them as being an either/or, I see them being complementary. One may come a little bit before like what comes first, the cart or the horse? Well the horse is gonna come first, the heavy duty lifting is gonna be done by fiber because that's the highway that carries all the resources. But then what plugs into that resource... One of the things is certainly wireless. And as time rolls out, we're gonna see more and more mobility solutions. And that's gonna be all over the country. If we get as much fiber in the ground as we can, it's gonna be everywhere, it'll even be on Rosebud and I look forward to that day.

Scott: That's awesome. Let's see if grabbing a question here on the fly from Scott Woods. "Local and tribal coordination is required under the BEAD and digital equity programs. What are best practices that state broadband offices should consider or conduct and outreach the tribal lands and Indian country in general?"

Joe: That's a great question, Scott. And first and foremost, reach out. I know that sounds fundamental, but Scott Densmore, you and I have been on some calls where we've actually heard state broadband directors say they're not gonna talk to the tribes.

Scott: Right.

Joe: And it doesn't make any sense for two reasons. If you have tribes in your state, you need to talk to them, they're probably the most under-served group in the state, probably. But secondly, under the BEAD program, you have to have as part of your application a plan to deal... To how you're gonna address served and underserved populations. Without talking to them, it's all theoretical. And certainly those populations want to talk to you. So number one, as flipping as it sounds, it's true. Talk to them, develop a dialogue. And in many states or regions, tribes have groups, there's tribal chairman associations, there's other kinds of things like that. If you don't know how else to talk to them, make a contact there. And you can do that, they'll be open to it, they'll want to talk to you. And opening that dialogue may at first be a little bit hurky jerky and painful for both of you, but in the long run, it's gonna benefit everybody involved.

Scott: Yeah, and that's something that I've wondered. Why not reach out to the tribe now? Granted, there's whatever history or political components may be involved, but I always use the analogy, we gotta get everybody paddling in the same direction. It's the only way we're gonna be able to move forward with any of this stuff. Thank you for that answer. Scott, thank you for the question. Jumping to another question here from Ann Marie Lanezy, and I apologize if I mispronounced your last name. "In regards to workforce development programs for digital up-scaling and training for tech's extra jobs, do you know of any innovative or notable projects currently underway, specifically within Indian country or other rural communities?"

Joe: Well, I don't know if the programs I know, if you'd call them innovative. But there certainly are several handfuls, they said focused on veterans, focused on other disadvantaged groups within the disadvantaged groups of tribal members. I think that question is gonna require a much longer answer that I'm able to give here. So I'll look for that question online and I'll provide a longer answer online too.

Scott: Awesome, thank you. Kind of backing up a little bit. We've got a question here from Kevin Keane. "Who are the owners of tribal communications? Is it just a tribe or also individuals?" I know the answer to this, but I'll let you address.

Joe: Yeah, it's a group of individuals. It's not owned by a tribe, it's owned by a group of individuals. Individuals and they're from various tribes.

Scott: Sure. Let's see, I'm gonna grab a questionnaire from Benjamin Kahn. What do you think are some common misconceptions people in the industry have about serving tribal regions? Do you think these misconceptions have contributed to many tribal areas going un-served, under-served? And what are some of the factors contributing to tribal areas overall lack of broadband service? So I guess to back up, what are some common misconceptions that you've heard with working with tribal regions? 

Joe: Oh, gosh.

Scott: I know there's a lot, but.

Joe: Yeah, there are a lot. I think one of the primary ones is about tribal sovereignty, tribal jurisdiction, being subject to tribal laws and regulations. Because there's a misperception about what that means, there's kind of a fear of it. And so it's inhibited some people from wanting to do business or understanding how to do business in Indian country. I think that's probably one of the really big ones. And to the rest of the question, in order to provide the service that's needed, you have to make a capital investment. And usually a very large capital investment to pull fiber, I guess that's what they call it. Pull fiber to a region these days, we're hand in range, this is per mile of $75,000 to $400,000 per mile to pull the cable or to bury the cable underground. And not a whole lot less than that if you just hang it from a pole.

Joe: So it's an expensive proposition, and it's always been a pretty expensive proposition. Those prices are a little higher today than they were 10 years ago because of supply chain issues, inflation and a few other things, but it's always been expensive. So it's not... The population densities in Indian country tend to be fairly small. And therefore, it hasn't been a good economic investment for many people or many companies to make that investment. Now with the government money that's out there, it is, there is an opportunity to do that for much less private capital and make those network investments more economical. I'm sounding like an investment banker here, but that is part of the reason why it's taken many tribal regions, maybe most have not had the investment in them that they should.

Scott: Gotcha, thank you for that. Let's see, I think another one just popped up.

Scott: Okay, we got one from Jill, I think the last name is Connie and Jill I apologize if I just mangled the pronunciation of your last name. "With this historic upfront funding, build it all with fiber. It is more cost efficient for the 30 year outlook, it will save you money in the long run," so I think she's just reiterating, it reiterating the fiber fact there. So Jill thank you for that. One of the question, this is also from Benjamin Kahn. "For groups looking to partner with tribal organizations, what are best practices in your mind should they engage in to ensure they are building trust and respecting and sovereignty and priorities of travel groups and not exploiting vulnerable populations?" Now, I have stories, You have stories, we were up in Alaska back in June at a conference, and we heard that circulated in that... So this was the National Congress of American Indian conference held in Anchorage. And we heard stories in the room of companies kinda coming in and, for lack of better term kind of acting like sharks, if you will. So everybody's kinda of looking out for each other in that regard, which is a very common practice in Indian country. But ultimately, how does a tribe kind of galvanize itself against that, but also what's a way for a company to engage? I know we talked about the State broadband office a bit ago, but how... What methodology or pathway should a company kind of walked out if trying to engage a Tribe? 

Joe: Well, I think you hit some of the high points in terms of our history, that tribes have historically, again, generally been exploited. So Tribes are can often be a very hard nut to crack, but not always, and it really is gonna be... You come to a tribe with an open, honest, transparent, verifiable background that they can investigate if they want to and then you build trust from there, and you need to come with the idea that you're gonna be a partner with the tribe, or that you may just be a service provider to the tribe but you're gonna be a damn good service provider to the tribe. And that will take some time but it will break down, it'll break down the barriers. And of course there's always finding somebody at the tribe whom you know and have them open the door for you. That's probably a very good way too, that's common. But just be aware of the tribes are going to do their due diligence, they're gonna check out who you are, why you're there. And they should, and they should just as you would if a non-native business, if you were introduced to somebody new, you take a little time generally just to see who they are, what they're about.

Joe: So it's not a process that's on like what you're used to, it's just you're walking in, as I mentioned before about some of the cultural differences, the misunderstandings about sovereignty and what that means, but you can get past that if you really want to but don't expect it to be, You walk in and say, I've got the best widget in the world, let's buy it, it's not gonna work that way, or it usually won't work that way. You need to take your time and you need to build a relationship.

Scott: So this is kind of timely, this came up during a panel today with Shelby, so school's health and library's broadband AnchorNets 2022, So Ernie Rasmussen, I don't know if you've ever spoken with Ernie, I had a quick exchange with Ernie, it was actually on Twitter, he's the executive director at Bigfoot telecommunications of the Colville Tribes. He spoke about the lack of trust between Anchor institutions and Indigenous communities. So what actions can an Anchor institution, again, thinking about what those are located in the Indian country take to begin to build trust with indigenous communities? So I think from a healthcare perspective, that sounds, to me anyways it would be an easy process in terms of running clinics and things like that, but what are your thoughts on that on Anchor institutions? 

Joe: Well, I guess that it really depends on the anchor institution. As you said, if it's, what you consider, a hospital it's considered an anchor institution often, but if it's been run by the IHS for 50, 60, 70 years, the mistrust that is part of that is sort of historical and very difficult to overcome. Not impossible, not impossible, but difficult to overcome. Tribal... Anchor institution's library, schools, government buildings if those are tribally owned, you don't really have much an issue there. If you're talking about... And I hesitate, if talking about churches and those kinds of things, and that historical overhang that's there may be very difficult to overcome. And the obligation to overcome it is kind of hard to identify, if there is the history of some churches, some other kinds of organizations like that even perhaps the IHS, the obligation is on the institution to reach out in a credible meaningful way to see if they can bridge that gap, I know I keep using bridge the gap, but that's a difficult question, depending on how you define Anchor institutions. Again, if you say their school's, public buildings, the fire houses, the government buildings, those are easy to overcome in generally because they're owned by the tribe or they're owned by some instrumentality of the tribe. But otherwise, again, it really depends on the history, it depends on the part of the country you're in. So I don't have a good answer, I just have that to say.

Scott: Yeah, I understood. And obviously, we're only a few generations away from government schools and things of that nature so my great grandmother falls into that category as she was a child and had to go to a government school, so with that kind of historical reference point, you can see where having trust in some of these institutions might may come up into discussion.

Joe: Yeah.

Scott: Another question here. This is related to grants. "Are tribal broadband grants limited to the tribe that has primary responsibility for a tribal area, or can other broadband providers, either from another tribe or non-tribal, seek to offer broadband in a given tribal area?"

Joe: Well, that's the model we have right now.

Scott: There you go.

Joe: Many of the providers have been providing service in tribal areas as a non-tribal entity, as a non-tribally owned entity, and the history speaks for itself. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not, and a lot of times it's in the middle. The set aside grants right now are actually... Or the $3 billion focused on Indian country along with the BEAD money and the other... The digital equity in the Middle Mile money are meant to disrupt the industry a bit so that current service providers, if they're not able to provide the service that the community demands, deserves, needs for the future, then this money helps, as we talked before about the capital investment in order to get past that hurdle where you don't need private capital or as much private capital to build this out. So I guess, what I'm trying to say is, that model exists today, and it's really gonna be up to the marketplace, the tribes in particular, to decide whether they're going to work with existing providers, create new providers, or some hybrid between that.

Scott: And something that we had talked about, I think it was at one point... I know you've been traveling like crazy lately, and I won't bring up Hartford, Connecticut for your request. And whether or not, I don't know that it's been made completely, we were talking about that National Tribal Broadband Grant that is due on, when? I think October 17th, if I'm not mistaken.

Joe: Yes, yeah.

Scott: Is that something that we can kind of discuss in a segment like this? 'Cause I know you did some work there.

Joe: Well, I have and the grand is coming from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It's a planning grant. It ranges from $100,000 to maybe as much as $150,000 depending on how many applications I have. And it's my understanding, although I haven't seen the notice yet, but I was informed yesterday that the VA is going to grant an extension of the deadline.

Scott: Awesome.

Joe: It may be up to 30 days but watch for the postings that we make, and as soon as we have verification of that, we'll post it, but I wouldn't tell you to take a deep breath if you're in the midst of preparing your application, keep working like the deadline is the 17th but I'm pretty sure that it's been extended.

Scott: Yeah, and I think that kind of brings up... This is part and parcel with the ACP program, where it's been out there for quite a while but we just don't see a lot of uptake of usage and in this particular grant... And again, this is for those feasibility studies to be prepared and set up on reservations. We just don't seem to see a lot of usage. So in your mind, why is that? How come there's not more people leveraging and...

Joe: Well, because it's so difficult to apply.

Scott: There you go.

Joe: Right now, the only way to apply is through the FCC website, which is... If you've tried it, you'll find it very frustrating and difficult, and if you have an ISP that says... It's sending you an ad and says, "You Click here to apply for the ACP", when you click on their link, they're taking you to the FCC link and you get frozen out. So I know the FCC is trying to work on that. They have set up some money to promote the ACP program in various ways with various communities but until the application process is made easier, they're gonna find adoption to be slow. And so I know, again, ourselves and our partner already dot net are working out ways to try to make that easier, and hopefully in the next quite a while, we'll be able to announce something that makes it easier too.

Scott: Absolutely, so I guess as we're coming up on time here, I guess more of a personal question, in all of your travels, and I know you've been all around the globe, what's been your favorite point of interest that you've seen or that you've landed on? What's been so much memorable? 

Joe: I have been lucky and they've been so many, but I recall often one night at the Quileute in the Indian reservation in Washington state. It was salmon season and there were groups of people there and they build a fire and cooked the salmon on the open fire in this beautiful open area.

Scott: Wow! That's awesome.

Joe: And I have a very strong memory of that, and it's one of my fondest memories of all the places I've been.

Scott: That's amazing. Yeah, it's just that picture. I can see it in my head, that's amazing. Well, Joe, thank you so much. Let's see, just for the folks listening in, be on the look out for our next AMA, Ask Me Anything on Friday, October 21, 2:30 PM with Deborah Simpier, interviewed by Drew Clark. And with that being said, big thanks for joining our Ask Me Anything here today, at broadband..