Coushatta Tribe to get high-speed internet

Published 8:28 am Friday, July 1, 2022

The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana has received a nearly $366,000 federal grant to help bring high-speed internet to tribal members in the Elton area as well as surrounding communities who have limited broadband internet access.

The funding is part of a $980 million Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program administered by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information program. Tribal members said Wednesday network expansion is crucial in helping to improve access to and use of broadband internet service for distance learning, telehealth and economic development.

“This is a progressive move forward and a step in the right direction in getting our children the education and resources they need at their fingertips,” Coushatta Tribal Council Vice Chairman Crystal Williams said. “We are living in a rural area where kids go to school and local colleges and need the internet. We also have some elders who want to take online classes.”

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Coushatta Tribal Council Treasurer Kristian Poncho said the COVID-19 pandemic and school lockdowns highlighted the need for reliable high-speed internet and updated technology in rural areas such as Elton where many of the tribal members live and work.

“During the COVID lockdowns several of the school children were not able to access online schooling,” Poncho said. “We realized this needed to be addressed.”

Many students had to travel to Kinder or to the Coushatta Casino Resort to access high-speed internet to complete schoolwork, Williams said.

“This brings it home,” she said. Expanding the internet will also provide access to telehealth for tribal members and help boost economic development in the area, Poncho said.

The first step of the project will be to analyze the existing fiber infrastructure and look at ways to improve the overall broadband system for the area, Poncho said.

“We already have money earmarked for the fiber infrastructure and are looking at applying for other funding to build out the internet structure,” Poncho said. The feasibility study is expected to take about six months to complete. Information from the study will help tribal leaders determine how to best access broadband services and open partnership opportunities with the surrounding communities who will also benefit from the service, he said.

Williams said Coushatta Tribal leaders will soon be meeting with local officials to discuss plans for the project.

“We have a plan and hope to have it in place by the end of the year,” she said. She said the plan includes upgrading all broadband systems for tribal members living in and around the reservation, as well residents living in surrounding areas.

“This will not just affect our residents, but hopefully we can bring broadband to help the whole region,” she said. “Elton is such a small town and needs help in improving its internet access.”

The Coushatta Tribe is also working on several business ventures which will benefit from faster internet service, she said.

The Coushatta Tribe was one of nine tribes across six states to receive a federal grant, and the only tribe in Louisiana awarded under the latest round of funding. Funds for the broadband projects are from the American Rescue Plan, which provided millions of dollars in federal grants to improve broadband for tribal communities.

To date, NTIA has made 43 awards totaling more than $91 million, or less than 10 percent of the allotted total funding for the projects. Funds can be used for feasibility, sustainability or engineering planning of such projects, as well as support for telehealth, digital inclusion and digital workforce/skills development.