Tribal Telecom Begins New Service for Warm Springs Reservation

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Warm Springs Telecom will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new tribal telecom company’s central office and customer service center on Friday, January 27 at 11:30am, followed by an afternoon of activities and food for the community to celebrate the newest tribal telecom company in the United States. The WST office is located at 4202 Holliday Street, Warm Springs (on the Warm Springs Reservation).

After more than five years of planning, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon is now the 9th tribal telecom company in the country. Like many tribes across the United States, members of the tribal nation have been underserved by the telecom companies serving the community. Rather than waiting for improvements, the Tribes decided to take control of their telecom future and build their own company that will offer basic land-line wired telephone service and broadband, high-speed Internet access.

“Telecommunications is a critical infrastructure that we can’t continue to live without,” says WST Board Chair Sylvester “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. This is an exciting day for our Tribes.”

WST Operations Manager, Jose Matanane, formerly the General Manager for tribally owned Fort Mojave Telecom, told people at a recent meeting that, “when I started at Ft. Mojave, we had many of the same problems as Warm Springs now has, including very high unemployment. Not only did the tribal telco create jobs, but it created opportunities for tribal members and businesses to use the network to expand their personal businesses and the Tribe to do further economic development. The unemployment rate has gone down at Ft. Mojave as the phone company built out its network. “

WSTC will build a state-of-the-art fiber and fixed wireless network and eventually serve everyone on the Reservation with telephone and broadband. As it also has received its federal Eligible Telecommunications Carrier certification (ETC), the company will also be able to offer eligible Tribal members telephone services for $1/month.

Located in Central Oregon, the 1,000 square mile Reservation of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs is home to the Wasco, Paiute and Warm Springs Tribes. 5,000 members and others live on the very rural Reservation. The Tribes have historically relied on timber harvest and hydro-generation as revenue sources. The launch of this new tribal enterprise positions the Tribes to become a leader in advanced telecommunications services.

Under the aegis of Warm Springs Ventures, the economic development corporation of the Tribes, tribal leaders has been working on this project for more than 5 years. Jeff Anspach, CEO of Warm Springs Telecom explained, “One of Ventures’ roles on the reservation is to provide a greenhouse for tribal startups. In this capacity we are able to provide administrative support to the Telco in the pre-operational phase of its development until it can stand on its own two feet.”

After receiving planning dollars from federal agencies, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and the Economic Development Administration (EDA), Warm Springs Telecom received $5.6 million from the ARRA Broadband Stimulus Fund in 2010, also from RUS. This enabled the years of planning to come to fruition as the new tribally owned company will soon offer services to individuals, tribal agencies and businesses.

“Access to broadband will help small businesses improve operations, strengthen distribution channels, increase efficiencies, and gain access to the global marketplace,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Vicki Walker. “In short, this project will stimulate economic development and is a terrific example of how President Obama has made it a priority to grow jobs in rural America.”

The creation of the Warm Springs Telecom represents the goals of the stimulus money released by the Obama administration. With extremely high unemployment on the Reservation, the creation of this company is an economic development engine that has created jobs employing tribal members. Money has also flowed to other local companies, including Steele and Associates Architects of Bend, who designed the new company’s central office and customer service center; general contractor, Kirby Nagelhout, and the numerous subcontractors needed for the construction of the building; and Bridge City Furniture of Portland, who furnished the building with funds from this award.

The Warm Springs Telecommunications Company (WSTC) is a tribally chartered enterprise whose mission is to bring advanced broadband services to the Warm Springs Reservation, including voice and broadband Internet access.

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