CRSTTA Leveraging $17 Million Grant to Serve Two Tribes with Fiber Broadband
April 11, 2023
Tribally owned CRSTTA will use $17 million grant from USDA to serve residents of the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Reservations in Western South Dakota.
Shared on behalf of CRSTTA.
EAGLE BUTTE, SD (April 2023) – Fiber broadband infrastructure continues to inch closer to reality for residents of two tribes, thanks to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority (CRSTTA) and the USDA’s ReConnect Program. A $17 million grant, first announced in November, will bring high-speed internet to rural Timberlake, located on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, and including residents of the Standing Rock Reservation.
“We want to be transparent.”
“It takes time for these projects to become visible for our community, because so much has to happen behind-the-scenes,” says Mona Thompson, General Manager of CRSTTA. “At the same time, we want to be transparent with our communities because this network is so important.”
Since the grant was announced in November 2022 project representatives have been working to fine-tune the network design and other steps in preparation for construction, tentatively scheduled to begin in spring of 2024. “The plan starts at a high-level when you apply for a grant, then once funding is in place you can dig into the detailed decisions,” Thompson explains. “But those details take time; so there’s a lot that has to happen before construction can actually start that people will see.”
CRSTTA is working with Vantage Point Solutions, of Mitchell, SD, to engineer and manage the project. Vantage Point also assisted in the grant application as part of a long-standing relationship with CRSTTA. Carmen O’Neill, PE, Director of Engineering at Vantage Point, estimates that the detailed engineering is expected to take several months; and will include steps like verifying locations, ordering construction materials, and applying for various easement permissions and construction permits. “All of this is happening in the background and it seems invisible to people in the community, when in reality the whole staff is really hustling to keep things moving on track. Then all of a sudden construction starts, and boom – things happen quickly,” O’Neill says. “The more detailed planning we put in now, the faster things move overall.”
State-of-the-art network will benefit two tribes.
The network will be a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) deployment connected to the existing CRSTTA network and will include 260 miles of new mainline fiber. It will allow CRSTTA to offer a variety of high-speed internet packages to residents, businesses, farms, schools, healthcare providers, and other facilities.
The Telephone Authority is a well-established service provider currently celebrating its 65th year providing advanced telecommunications services to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Notably, the company is the first tribal telephone company in the United States. Guthrie Ducheneaux, President of the Board of Directors for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority, highlights the Tribe’s commitment to providing world-class telecommunication services to residents of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, through a series of investments made over the years. “We’re connecting our people to their futures,” says Ducheneaux.
Once complete the network will connect an estimated 487 people in Dewey County, wholly located on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation, and Corson County, wholly located on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. “The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is grateful for the C.R.S.T. Telephone Authority staff for working diligently to pursue and be awarded these grant funds and bringing this technology to the extremely rural areas of our reservation,” says C.R.S.T. Chairman, Ryman LeBeau.
Ms. Janet Alkire, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman, agrees. “Having access to this state-of-the-art network will be a great economic and quality of life benefit,” she says. “But there’s another layer of confidence that those households will be served by a tribally-owned company. We know that they understand what’s important to us.”
“Exactly what the program is for.”
The $17 million grant is through the ReConnect program of the Rural Utilities Services, through USDA. The ReConnect program has distributed funds through three rounds, with a fourth pending and a fifth round anticipated later in 2023.
ReConnect funds are designed to facilitate broadband deployment in under-served parts of the country, aiming to fuel economic development in rural America. “The CRSTTA project is a perfect example of these funds being used successfully, and responsibly,” says RUS General Field Representative Scott Davis. “I look at this project – An established local provider building fiber optic broadband to two underserved tribes in an extremely rural part of the country – and you can’t help but feel pride in what they’re doing. This is exactly what the program is for.”
For her part, Mona Thompson is proud of the CRSTTA staff that have been critical to the company’s success so far. “Their hard work has made us successful, and that success puts us in position to expand now,” she says. “We have worked with our partners, like Vantage Point, and we couldn’t have done this without them. But we can’t do any of it without our staff, and I’m so grateful to have them excited about this future.”
About Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority – In our 60+ year history, it has always been our mission to provide the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation with a modern and reliable communications infrastructure. Today, this includes approximately 1,500 miles of fiber optics reaching 20 communities and spread out over 2.8 million acres of land. This innovative technology offers our Reservation a platform to build and sustain self-sufficient and thriving communities, and it is built on a legacy of investment.
In 1958, the Tribe purchased a local telephone exchange and in the 1970s became the first Tribe to borrow from the Rural Electrification Administration to install single-party buried copper telephone service throughout the Reservation. The Telephone Authority continued its progress by borrowing over $30 million to put fiber optic cable to the doorstep of every existing customer who wanted it. Recently, the Authority expanded its reach beyond its official territory to bring broadband over fiber optic to the city of Timber Lake, and it has received a $17 million grant to further extend the network to the rural Timber Lake area and to begin providing service to southern Corson County through a partnership the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.