Broadband internet is coming to the Seneca Nation's rural Cattaraugus Territory. Under a deal announced Thursday, the federal Agriculture Department will put up more than $4 million and the Nation will kick in $3 million to provide connections to 85% of the Southern Tier territory.
The process will not be easy. Construction will require installing 43 miles of optical fiber along the utility poles on the territory. It might take three years to get the backbone installed and run connections to 1,000 residences.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development D.J. LaVoy came to the reservation to announce the grant. He said the project is part of an initiative to bring broadband to rural America, and not just because it helps kids with their education. He said farming is increasingly web-connected and up to 50 multimillion-dollar grants will bring the world to more American farmers.
"It's the start of what we want to be something that's going to become much more frequent," LaVoy said. "So what we do with broadband in rural America is we connect people with what the rest of the country already has. A large percentage of our country has no connection to the internet, to the ability to communicate even something as simple as working on their children's education."
That is an issue on Cattaraugus, since the 800 Seneca students can use computers in school at Gowanda, Lake Shore or Silver Creek but mostly not at home. That will change once the cable drops from utility poles start working.
Territory Education Director Trudy Jackson said it is for students of all ages, even adults.
"A lot of them do online classes because they can't leave their full-time jobs to go on campus to take," Jackson said. "I know, because I went through a couple of online degree courses. It's hard when you have to communicate with a group of people, you have to video, Skype or anything like that, and if you don't have any kind of internet service, it's difficult."