Helping Hands for Warm Springs Telecom

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Tribal Workforce Joins Construction Team for New Broadband Hub

One of the many positive spin-off benefits flowing from the building of the new Warm Springs Telecom’s central office and customer service center on tribal lands was the opportunity to employ local people on the project, says Kirby Nagelhout Construction Company Project Manager Hodge Kerr.

“That was one of the ways we proposed on the project, and I am happy to say we were able to put local people to work, with the assistance of the Tribal Workforce Group, in everything from demolition to excavation and fencing,” said Kerr, who added that KNCC Superintendent Wes Mansfield was instrumental in coordinating the team.

“In fact, the guys who did the fencing for us had such a positive experience that they are now working on setting up their own business in that field.”

KNCC was the successful bidder for the project, designed by Steele Associates Architects, which involved a wholesale makeover of structures on Holliday Road in the Warm Springs Reservation which had previously been used for everything from a sewing factory to fire department training space.

“It was something of a leaking mess of a building, with rotten and water-stained sections of ceiling when we started,” said Kerr. “The first priority was to install a completely weather-tight roof, as it was critical to make sure the whole building envelope was protected, especially in light of the valuable central office data center technological assets contained inside.

“The interior also involved an extreme makeover to facilitate housing the central office and supporting administration functions.

“It was a great experience – the people of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs were wonderful to work with. We developed good relationships and look forward to working with them on more projects in the future.

“Part of what made it so fun was seeing the excitement generated and the positive atmosphere in taking control of their own communications future. I think they are among the first independent tribal telecom companies and it is great to see Government stimulus dollars spent in the right way.”

Tribal drums, singing and dancing children adorned in their finest traditional regalia welcomed the arrival of broadband internet – along with 21st Century economic, education, public safety and health care opportunities – during the recent grand opening for WST. Hundreds of community members joined the celebration along with US Department of Agriculture Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager and State Director Vicki Walker.

With $5.4 million in USDA Recovery Act broadband funding, the Warm Springs Telecommunications Company is developing a state-of-the-art fiber and fixed wireless network that will eventually serve everyone on the 644,000-acre reservation with telephone and broadband.  

Having received federal Eligible Telecommunications Carrier certification (ETC), the company will also be able to offer tribal members telephone services for just $1 a month. Until now, about one-third of those living on the reservation have not had access to phone or Internet service. In a region with extremely high unemployment levels, the development is significant.  

“I am really excited for the internet,” said reservation resident Amanda Frank. “I have been waiting to use the Internet for the past five years, to do some homework and other business stuff, and I haven’t been able to do it.”

Warm Springs Telecom is just the ninth tribally owned telecom in the nation. The creation of the company serves as an economic development engine that has created jobs employing tribal members and will continue to support economic opportunity with the availability of modern telecommunications for local business ventures seeking to participate in the global marketplace.

“Telecommunications is a critical infrastructure that we can’t continue to live without,” said tribal member and telecom board chair Sal Sahme. “Education, jobs, healthcare and economic development all rely on having sophisticated telecommunications.   We can’t afford to lag further behind other Americans.  We needed to do this and build out this new company to serve our people and bring us into future.”  

“You have the full support of the Obama administration in your efforts to improve economic opportunities and quality of life here on the reservation,” Under Secretary Tonsager said in a keynote address during opening celebrations.

“In his state of the union speech, the President used the phrase ‘building an economy that lasts’ and this project is a great example of how our agency can help build systems that are important for the future growth and development of rural communities.

“The leadership and commitment you have shown over years of planning sets an example and tells other communities they can do it too by investing in the future and building something that endures.”

Tonsager, who told CBN he hails from a farming family in North Dakota which gave him first hand insight into rural America, said one of the most rewarding aspects of his job was to drive across the country and get to see critical infrastructure built with his department’s support.

His visit to Oregon took in a tour of a fledgling $235 million biodiesel operation in Boardman and the groundbreaking for the new Madras City Hall and Police Station, also propelled with USDA backing, as well as the Warm Springs Telecom facility unveiling.

“USDA has been with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs every step of the way,” commented State Director Walker. “A Rural Business Opportunity Grant (RBOG) and a Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) in 2007 and 2008 moved forward pre-planning and feasibility studies for this vitally important project.”

Contact: 541-553-3565, www.warmspringstelecom.com.

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