Oregon Tribal Broadband Bootcamp Aims to Expand Internet Access

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The University of Oregon hosted an event where tribal representatives from across Oregon learned how to expand and improve their Internet access.

EUGENE, Oregon. — This week, the University of Oregon hosted its first Oregon Tribal Broadband Boot Camp, where tribal representatives from across Oregon learned how to expand internet access and bridge the digital divide. The event was the first event of its kind in the state.

Jason Younker, UO Assistant Vice President and Chief Shell Indian Tribesaid the five-day boot camp addresses a challenge that many rural tribal communities face.

“We don’t have the internet connectivity that everyone else has,” he explained.

Younker said the problem increased tenfold when the pandemic hit and internet access became essential for remote learning.

“So here you have mandatory training in virtual presence, but you don’t have virtual capacity at your reservation,” Younker said. “We had kids sitting in their school parking lot trying to do their homework before the internet went down.”

It’s a fact he said that people often find hard to believe.

“They see tribes…they believe that casinos solve all the problems, but sometimes when you’re in a rural setting, that kind of stuff just doesn’t get solved,” Younker added.

This is where the Oregon Tribal Broadband Boot Camp Fifty tribal members from Oregon and the Pacific Northwest attended the event to learn the ins and outs of establishing and improving internet infrastructure in their communities. Topics ranged from funding opportunities, to building fire cameras, to hands-on sessions on how to crimp and splice cables.

Methius Barney hails from Burns, Oregon and is a member of the Burns Paiute Tribe. He attended boot camp to eventually give back to his community.

“It’s a rural area, our connection isn’t always the best,” Barney said. He hopes to one day expand his tribe’s broadband with the things he learned in boot camp. “To improve it and make it even better for my children and hopefully allow them to keep our culture and our tribe alive.”

“We want them to build for the next 20 to 50 years,” Younker said, “so they know and have confidence that what they build there today will be there for generations to come.”

The solution to this problem can start here at the University of Oregon, with far-reaching impacts for rural tribal communities.

The Oregon Tribal Broadband Bootcamp runs through Thursday this week at Ford Alumni Center.

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