Less than a month after construction began on Humboldt County's redundant fiber optic line, the Karuk Tribe received the green light on funding for a broadband project of its own.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it is awarding the tribe $1.14 million in an effort to help expand broadband, or high-speed, Internet access to unserved and underserved areas of rural America. The Community Connect grant aims to provide service to 570 tribal members and is one of 23 grants, totaling more than $103 million, awarded by the department.

Karuk Tribe Information Technology Director Eric Cutright said the tribe is excited about the funding, which will help install a new fiber optic connection and provide wireless Internet to the community.

”My goal is to get service to everyone who wants it,” he said. “I think you should be able to live in Orleans and still get the same kind of service available as if you lived in Eureka.”

The two-phase project includes installing a new fiber optic cable linking Orleans to the Siskiyou Telephone Co.'s connection in Somes Bar and then distributing the Internet service through wireless technology. Currently, businesses and residents can purchase satellite or dial-up services, while larger organizations like the tribe can purchase a costly T-1 line, Cutright said.

The tribe is working with EnerTribe, a telecommunications consultant and the West Coast affiliate for Native Link Communications, to achieve its goal.

EnerTribe President Forest James, a member of the Tolowa Tribe of the Smith River Rancheria, said project goals include increasing communications for public safety agencies, telemedicine opportunities and distance learning. The service will first be available to institutions and businesses before expanding to individual members. He said he and tribal representatives will meet soon to discuss the next steps, which may lead to digital phone services.

”We've been extremely excited today,” James said on Monday. “It's been a tremendous success. There's a lot of work that went into it, and the tribe has been amazing to work with.”

Cutright said one example of adding public safety would be the ability for residents to receive emailed fire alerts. He said fire safety is an important issue for the area, which has a lot of forest fires.

Access Humboldt Director Sean McLaughlin said he is excited about the educational value of increased connectivity and hopes to see the Orleans Community Radio station, KHAA, benefit from the project as well.

”Karuk Tribe's new project will bring broadband service to Orleans and provides a great example of community network deployment to meet local needs,” McLaughlin said. “Access Humboldt supports this project and ongoing efforts to advance broadband adoption with our Generation ZeroDivide project.”

The project is the second tribal network in Humboldt. The Yurok Tribe was awarded an earlier Community Connect grant to increase Internet access to its reservation.

McLaughlin said the two projects could help connectivity progress in the entire county, with the Yurok Tribe's line running from Crescent City -- which is on the U.S. Highway 101 fiber optic cable -- to Weitchpec and the Karuk Tribe's line essentially connecting Orleans to Yreka. The connection in Yreka links into the Interstate 5 fiber optic cable, which will be the endpoint for the redundant fiber optic cable currently being installed.

McLaughlin said this could be the beginning of two new redundant paths.


At a glance: Broadband projects around the county


Karuk Tribe:

The tribe's line will run from Orleans to Yreka, which connects to the Interstate 5 fiber optic cable. The tribe hopes to provide Internet service to 570 tribal members, as well as for tribal offices, institutions and businesses. The project's next phase will include digital phone services.


Yurok Tribe:

The tribe's line runs from Crescent City to Weitchpec, and will use new white space technology from Arcata-based Carlson Wireless to provide wireless broadband to the reservation. The company implemented a dedicated public safety line in June, but is still waiting on the Federal Communications Commission to establish white space Wi-Fi guidelines before moving forward.


Humboldt redundant cable:

San Francisco-based IPNetworks began construction on the redundant fiber optic cable in July. The cable is currently being strung on towers along State Route 36. The cable connects from Eureka to Cottonwood and will serve as a connection to the cable along Interstate 5 -- providing redundancy for when the U.S. Highway 101 cable is unusable.