The Nisqually tribe has called on the county to support its efforts to build fiber-optic internet infrastructure in under-served areas.
The Board of County Commissioners heard a presentation from the tribe on the topic during a Thursday planning session.
Once completed, this multi-phased project would guarantee 5 Gigabytes per second download speeds and 1 Gbps upload speeds to thousands of residents, said Paul Walk a consultant on the project. He added the project is future proof because the fiber-optic cables have the capacity to supply 100 Gbps both ways.
Walk said Wave Broadband, the service provider for tribe-built connections, offer 1 Gbps upload speeds at $69 a month. For comparison, Walk said residents in the Littlerock Community pay Comcast about the same amount for just 25 Megabytes per second.
The Nisqually tribe became involved in developing broadband services over the past several years with consulting help from Redline Communications. Walk said they formed Nisqually Communications in 2017 to provide arial and underground fiber-optic construction services for large internet providers.
Since then, the tribe has connected each tribal member living on their reservation with 1 Gbps fiber internet connections. Walk said he felt proud about this achievement.
“It took us 13 months from initiation of the feasibility assessment to completion and turn up of the project,” Walk said. “So, timeline perspective, that’s pretty much unheard of.”
Recently the tribe has been applying for grants to bring this internet solution to other areas of the county.
Phase one and two of their plans require grant funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is located within the U.S. Department of Commerce.
For the first phase, the Nisqually tribe aims to build 42 miles of fiber from its reservation, through Lacey and Tumwater and down to the Chehalis Reservation. This will provide high-speed internet to an estimated 1,200 residential homes, 29 businesses and 16 anchor institutions, according to a presentation.
“This project has been completely pre-engineered, the engineering budget has been produced, all the permits have been identified and is truly shovel ready,” Walk said.
Walk said the tribes expects a response to their grant application sometime this month.
The second phase would connect the reservation to an under-development property it owns on Marvin Road just north of Interstate 5. Walk said this will connect 22 tribal residents that live outside the reservation, seven tribal anchor institutions and seven tribal business.
With the third phase, the tribe hopes build fiber connections from the Rochester to the under-served areas of Littlerock. This build would connect 860 residents, a library, a school, 12 farms and seven businesses, per the presentation.
To fund this phase, the tribe plans to apply for about $7 million in grant funding from the Washington State Broadband Office.
Walk said the tribe is interested in continuing to build more fiber connections throughout the county. However, he added money is not big driver for this effort.
“This is not a big moneymaker,” Walk said. “These networks basically sustain themselves and give you a little extra cheese on top… So the commitment from the tribe is commendable, from the perspective of community support.”
He said he hopes a partnership with the county can help speed up the growth rate of the network. Specifically, he called for the county to support its grant applications and participate in the creation of a steering committee.
Such a committee would include stakeholders from cities, towns and the county who can offer input on the direction of the network build-out, Walk said.