Community , Government , Business

Details of Grayhorse Broadband project discussed at community meeting

Photo caption: Mark Kirk and James Lightfoot give an update on the Grayhorse Broadband Project to area citizens on Feb. 12. SHANNON SHAW DUTY/Osage News

Osage officials held a community meeting for Grayhorse and Fairfax residents about upcoming construction that will make high-speed internet available to the community.

Mark Kirk, the Nation’s Information Services director, said “failure is not an option” as he fielded questions on the project to the more than 20 area residents in attendance at the Feb. 13 meeting at the Fairfax Elder Nutrition building.

Once a contractor is selected, construction will begin on 30 miles of buried fiber optic cable in June, said James Lightfoot, an engineer with Oklahoma City-based Associated Communications & Research Services (ACRS). The construction will begin in Pawhuska and run west along U.S. Highway 60. The buried cable will then turn south along U.S. Highway 18 into Fairfax.

Construction of three 90-foot towers (about nine stories tall) will take about three months to construct, he said. The first tower will be located in the Grayhorse village, in the vicinity of the Grayhorse Chapel, which is roughly 200 feet from the Grayhorse dance arbor. The second tower will be located about 5 miles east of the Grayhorse village. The third tower will be located about 5 miles west of Fairfax to service the Bend area.

Once construction on the fiber optic cable and towers are complete, the Nation will contract with an Internet service provider to provide the high-speed internet to residents. Lightfoot said the completion of construction and the selection of an Internet service provider should be finished by late fall or early winter.

The money for the Grayhorse Broadband Project comes from a USDA Community Connect Grant awarded to the Nation in 2017. The Nation received $3 million in grant funding for the project and the Fourth Osage Nation Congress appropriated an additional $450,000 in 2016. The second phase of the project is to install fiber optic cable and towers for the Bowring area. Bowring is located about 26 miles northeast of Pawhuska.

According to the USDA website, the Community Connect Grant helps fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private sectors to deliver service.

“The ultimate goal is to build a business enterprise that provides jobs in this area,” Kirk said.

He said the Nation’s Utility Authority Board (UAB) and employees for the Nation’s Executive Branch will be looking for partners to run a utility company and the search will be “extremely competitive on a national scale” and any provider will be “heavily vetted.” The UAB consists of Paul Bemore (chair), Gary Burd (vice chair), Jon Red Corn (secretary), Mike Wellner and the fifth seat is currently vacant.

Included in the grant is funding for a community center where Grayhorse residents can access computers for free. Kirk said the center will be housed in a modular building that will be located in the vicinity of the Grayhorse chapel. The center will be open five days a week and one day on the weekend. He said an operator will be in the building at all times. The center is funded for two years by the grant.

Kirk answered questions and said the price of the internet service will be up to the service provider the Nation contracts with. The service provider will also be responsible for any technical assistance needed by the resident. Osages who do not live in the Grayhorse Indian Village but have homes within the service area will be able to purchase the service.

The grant will provide funding for the project for two years. After the grant ends the Nation will be responsible for funding any additional business ventures unless alternative funding is found.

In 2015, the UAB and ACRS conducted a feasibility study on the areas of Grayhorse and Bowring. They hired Lightfoot and applied for the Community Connect Grant with the idea in mind that the Nation would pursue a business enterprise to provide Internet service to Osage County. Bemore said at the time that by providing the backbone of the fiber optic cable to Osage County it would provide for better broadband service, increase the bandwidth for the county’s citizens, provide better and faster Internet speed and Wi-Fi at a low cost.

He also said better broadband, more bandwidth, Wi-Fi access for the county, could provide for smart homes, a smart grid, new businesses, additional job opportunities, telemedicine, homeschooling, online research, distance learning, home businesses, and better access for emergency responders to “dead zones” in the county.

Kirk said the Nation is applying for another grant for two more locations within Osage County for similar projects.

Free Fairfax Wi-Fi

Officials for Cleveland-based Indian Electric were in attendance at the meeting and said they recently received a donation of broadband width from K-PowerNet LLC and would be providing free Wi-Fi to Fairfax’s Main Street. The free Wi-Fi will begin at Brandy’s restaurant and run north to NAPA Auto Parts at the entrance of town.

Don Lawrence, Manager of Corporate Services for Indian Electric, said there would most likely be some “bleed over” to homes along Fairfax’s Main Street but they won’t know for sure until it begins operating. He said the project is permanent and would be kicking off in about 90 days.