The Quinault Indian Nation in Washington is working to remediate the effects of the digital divide affecting tribal communities and rural areas.
Toptana Technologies is a first-of-its-kind Indigenous-owned Internet infrastructure and technology company focused on bringing connectivity to unserved and underserved communities. Toptana and the tribe are aiming to bring the first subsea cable landing and backhaul station to Washington in over 20 years with the goal of bringing connectivity to rural populations across Washington and Oregon. The project will run along I-5 offering efficient interconnection from the Olympic Peninsula to Seattle and Hillsboro, Oregon.
As a coastal Tribe facing decreasing population numbers and graduation rate declines – the tribe is now spearheading an effort to bridge the digital divide and connect rural communities in the Pacific Northwest with limited to no internet access.
Tyson Johnston, self-governance director and former vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation, said not only is rural America underserved, but Indian Country, in particular, is at times even more underserved.
“As we’ve moved forward, in this modern day time, having Internet access is essential for our economies, so we could have better access to health care resources, having better access to educational resources,” he added.
Toptana works on the middle mile of Internet connectivity. Johnston said that “essentially gets the backbone of Internet to these areas that are unserved.”
“If you want to bring new Internet service providers or other entities to your region, if there’s not middle mile infrastructure, or a fiber backbone that can get those entities to those key locations, then it’s impossible,” he said.
“The exciting thing of this project is it’s very holistic,” Johnston said. “It’s broadband. And connectivity is a component of this, but there’s so many other applications and utility that comes with having this infrastructure in your area.”
He added that the community is dealing with sea levels rising and are in the process of relocating. “And so having this infrastructure from just a safety standpoint, allows us to track with smart cable technology if there was a change in the seafloor – seismic event – so we can be better prepared for emergencies,” he told the Daily Yonder.
He said the technology will help the tribe be better stewards and be more resilient in the face of climate change.
“But also be better prepared in the face of an emergency, tsunami, earthquake, extreme weather, what have you, as well as being able to better take care of the many species that we steward in our treaty area. We’re a big ocean and sea people so, taking care of our fisheries, taking care of our wildlife, and making sure that our ecosystems are stable is of paramount importance to the tribe,” he said.
Toptana Technologies is owned and operated by the Quinault Indian Nation, he said, and allows the tribe to prioritize needy areas and make sure that they’re getting the highest return on investment as far as how they’re providing improved services to tribal citizens and bringing equity to things like education, health care, and jobs.