PAWHUSKA, OK – Wahzhazhe Connect, the Osage Nation’s $54.5 million broadband expansion project, will break ground on Jan. 30, 2023, at the Pawhuska Senior Housing neighborhood. Chief Geoffrey Standingbear will be on hand along with representatives from Wahzhazhe Connect and its construction contractors, Osage Nation Financial Assistance, and Tri County Tech. The project is the first in a multi-year broadband construction schedule that will dramatically increase internet connectivity throughout the Osage Nation service area.
“The Osage Nation is so pleased to begin construction in our senior housing neighborhood,” said Chief Geoffrey Standingbear. “One of our core cultural values places elders first in any situation, whether we are serving a meal or providing light-speed internet services. Wahzhazhe Connect will also provide technical assistance to our elders in setting up and maintaining their internet service as we continue to expand broadband to the rest of the Osage Nation service area.”
The broadband expansion is funded by competitive grants awarded to the Osage Nation that include a $40.6 million Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program Grant from the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) and a $13.9 million ReConnect3 Grant Program from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Wahzhazhe Connect is building the critical broadband infrastructure for the Osage Nation under the office of the Secretary of Development Christian Johnson. The construction project will lay more than 200 miles of fiber optics and erect 16 towers throughout the Osage Nation service area.
“As we build out the network, what’s in the forefront of our minds is what’s best for the Osage people,” said James Trumbly, Wahzhazhe Connect Project Manager and Systems Analyst. “Our language department can improve distance learning. We can increase cultural classes. The health clinic can increase telehealth. This is in addition to connecting and maintaining that thread from generation to generation, linking us with our ancestors and our descendants. While we’re focused on getting the network built, the entire Wahzhazhe Connect team and the Osage Nation knows that we’re building it for many important purposes.”
The groundbreaking represents the first day on the job for construction crews, which will include trainees from Wahzhazhe Connect’s partnership with the Osage Nation’s Financial Assistance Department and Tri County Tech. The unique partnership offers paid training for field technicians in connecting fiber optic cable to homes. The training provides transportation, lunch, and $80 per day, with a $200 incentive for completing the certificate program. Training will remain ongoing during construction through field apprenticeships and classroom training at Tri County Tech, which was one of the first educational facilities to receive federal funding to administer broadband training.
“Tri County Tech was recently the recipient of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be directly used for providing broadband fiber optic training in our district,” said Tara Gotwalt, Chief Instruction Officer for Tri County Tech. “Tri County looks forward to providing a variety of short-term training courses for those looking for new careers in the broadband fiber optic industry.”