Who are the target audience that will benefit from this initiative?
We are focused on reducing costs and improving access to the Internet for all of Indian Country. Although these Nations vary widely in terms of geography and socio-economic standing, our services will benefit some of the poorest in the nation as well as Native Americans of all ages and genders.
How does the initiative provide unconnected people affordable access to the full diversity of the open Internet?
Many existing solutions for affordable Internet today involve subsidies or grants which often come with conditions restricting access to only a portion of the Internet. Instead, we focus on optimizing upstream costs, rather than providing subsidies. This enables us to provide a sustainable solution to lower connectivity costs without ongoing subsidies or the corresponding restrictions on access. We are committed to offering Indian Country – and any communities in rural America along the path to Indian country – unfettered access to the Internet.
How might this initiative be scaled?
Our plan is specifically designed to leverage economies of scale to reduce the cost for connectivity in Indian Country and across rural America. For example, it simply isn’t affordable for a single tribe in Montana to obtain cost-effective access to the Internet when the nearest Internet hubs are in Chicago and Seattle but, by obtaining long haul capacity between Chicago and Seattle and serving all of the Indian nations (and rural communities) along the path, we can provide an affordable and highly cost-effective solution.
Since much of the long haul fiber in the United States is controlled by a handful of carriers who have no interest (profit motive) in serving these communities, we are discussing nationwide bulk capacity purchases that would enable us to obtain favorable pricing across multiple regions. Subject to having suitable funding, we would then light the network region-by-region leveraging those nationwide transactions and our experience to date. Because of the diversity of Nations involved, there will necessarily be exceptions – particularly in Alaska – which require customized solutions, but we hope to deploy a fairly standardized solution to much of this target audience.
In what ways will the initiative provide a positive and enduring experience for its users?
In addition to the obvious benefits that full, affordable Internet access will provide in these communities, we hope to bring forth positive secondary consequences. Today, the best and brightest are often forced to leave the reservation in search of education and career opportunities that simply do not exist on reservation, especially in the poorest and most rural Nations. These tribe members may not want to leave, but have no other option. Affordable Internet access will enable vibrant educational and occupational opportunities on reservations so that members can stay and continue to preserve their culture and their future.
What benefits does the initiative bring compared to those currently available?
Right now, for the poorest and geographically remote tribes, any Internet access, when it’s available, is an unaffordable luxury. The cost for serving these often rural communities is high and, given poverty, carriers are unlikely to deploy profitable solutions. By aggregating demand and reducing costs for middle mile access, we aim to make it affordable for carriers – or even Tribal Nations themselves – to serve these communities. For some wealthy tribes or tribes that are not very rural, this solution may have minimal effect. For many, however, this may lead to the first affordable Internet access their Nations have ever seen.
When will the initiative be brought to market?
Over the next 6-9 months, we plan to gather information about available fiber, continue and expand our negotiations with major regional and national fiber owners, and come up with a detailed plan, budget, and study for implementation. Subject to obtaining funding to acquire, build, and light the fiber in one or more regions, we expect that we could have portions of the network operational within 12-18 months and the network completed within 18-24 months. Nations with existing infrastructure could see benefits in as little as 12 months, but some, where no infrastructure or entities exist, will take longer to benefit.
How will the initiative work from a technical and business perspective?
Our backbone solution is based entirely on established technology and is different only in that it aims to serve rural communities rather than urban centers. The issue is that many tribal regions lack the infrastructure or have such small or poor populations that carriers are unmotivated to use their existing infrastructure to serve these communities.
We plan to sell capacity on a cost plus basis rather than focusing on profit. Grants may initially fund the infrastructure build, but maintenance, overhead, and, to the extent possible, expansion will be funded from the purchase of cost plus capacity by these communities.
How will funding for this initiative be used?
Initial funding will provide the seed funding for us to gather detailed information about available fiber in proximity to Indian Country, continue and expand our negotiations with major regional and national fiber providers for access to fiber capacity, and generally develop the concept, a budget, and a specific business plan for TIC. We also aim to expand our outreach into the Indian community through attendance at key conferences and events throughout the next year and to begin to approach potential funding sources for the larger contribution required to implement this solution across one region initially and across all of Indian Country shortly thereafter.
We also hope to begin outreach to rural carriers outside of Indian Country who could potentially contribute to and benefit from deployment of a solution on the way to Indian Country. These carriers suffer from very similar challenges, but may have deeper pockets that enable them to help fund some portion of our builds in exchange for access to capacity at cost plus rates. They may also, in fact, be able to provide some of the fiber required for connecting Indian Country.
Who is working on this initiative?
Why will this be an effective team for this initiative?
Our team formed when we were brought together by the White House to brainstorm connectivity solutions for Indian Country. Tribal International Carrier is the result of those efforts. TIC couples the vast industry experience and extensive industry contacts that David and Erikas bring to the table with Matthew, a member of the Cree Nation, who has experienced and largely solved this problem for 16 Nations (so far) in Southern California where he has been able to reduce Internet access costs from $90/Mbps to $3/Mbps and aims to bring costs below $1/Mbps for many other Nations.