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ON Utility Authority Board to pursue Internet broadband feasibility study

By

Benny Polacca

The Osage Nation Utility Authority Board is pursuing a feasibility study on building a broadband Internet network in the Nation thanks to an approved ON Congressional bill.

During the July 16 special session, the Fourth ON Congress unanimously passed a $47,900 supplemental appropriation bill (ONCA 15-65 sponsored by Alice Buffalohead) to fund the feasibility study. The money will go to the Utility Authority Board’s budget in its professional fees line item.

Board chairman Paul Bemore spoke to the Congressional Appropriations Committee regarding the study. Referring to his cellphone and other smartphones, Bemore said “they’re computers essentially today and as we know, whenever the system is down … it questions our ability on a lot of things, not just the business processes at hand, but also the impact it has on our community. There’s a lot of moving parts with the broadband feasibility study, but as an (ON) Utility Authority, it is within our scope to make sure everyone understands in part what this feasibility study will do, but also what it sets us up for as a Nation economic development-wise for the future.”

“Presently there are millions of dollars available to rural communities for broadband infrastructure development – we’re talking federal grants,” said Bemore who is the human resources manager for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority in Window Rock, Ariz. The Navajo’s utility authority is a nonprofit enterprise, which applies for and receives federal grants and loans to extend electrical power to rural communities in the vast rural Navajo Nation and what money NTUA generates is returned to maintain, operate, and upgrade utility infrastructure, according to the authority’s website.    

Bemore said the Navajo utility company pursued and secured over $30 million in federal funding to build a broadband infrastructure for the Nation. He also added the Osage Nation will benefit from an updated infrastructure in terms of education (especially those taking online courses), safety (emergency calls) and health.

“Here in (the Osage Nation), we know there are gaps within the community… or there is limited connectivity,” Bemore said. “It’s because of the infrastructure we don’t have that is causing this … Without doing a feasibility study, we’re not going to be able to answer these questions whether it be today or tomorrow – what’s it going to take to bring that system up to a standard that is acceptable to our people, to the government?”

Buffalohead said she’s experienced computer Internet outage problems while visiting the Fairfax language building, prompting her decision to sponsor the feasibility study bill. Buffalohead heard complaints on the connection problems from language employees who said outages and slow connection speeds affect their jobs and productivity. “We’re putting a lot of money into that community – we have day care, we have language, we have a senior center that’s going to be there,” she said, also noting the Nation’s investment in the grocery store that recently reopened in the Nation-owned building, which all use internet service for their operations.

Bemore said – pending the outcome of the study – the Nation could have more responsibilities and jobs available for Osages if a utility company is developed.

Congresswoman Shannon Edwards vouched for the Navajo Nation broadband noting she had cell service during a recent Arizona backroads trip from the neighboring Hopi reservation to Canyon de Chelly. Edwards also questioned the appropriation amount, which Bemore said is an estimate from a company that helped develop the Navajo’s program.

Bemore said the board would issue a request for proposals (RFP) to solicit interested parties to apply for the feasibility study opportunity to comply with the Osage preference in contracting law. The study will give potential ideas of what the Nation could achieve in building an infrastructure, as well as provide a financial analysis of income the Nation could generate, he said.

The ON Utility Authority Board is a five-member body with two vacancies. Other members serving with Bemore are Gary Burd and Mike Wellner.


Original Publish Date: 2015-08-06 00:00:00

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Benny Polaccahttps://osagenews.org
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.
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