Mississippi Choctaws’ Broadband Expansion to Improve Business Opportunities, Attract Investors

A strong broadband connection has long been central to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ economy. 

For instance, in 2011, the Tribe entered the financial services industry with the launch of Mobiloans, an enterprise offering small dollar loans to consumers.

“We led a great team on this startup company into a multimillion-dollar corporation,” Marshall Pierite, Chairman of the Tunica Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, told Native Business. “We’re doing cutting-edge stuff with Mobiloans, and we’re still expanding.”

Last week, Chairman Pierite delivered a keynote address at the Native Business Virtual Summit live broadcast, in which he spoke to innovation in Tribal and Native American business. In addition to serving as Chairman of his Tribe, Mr. Pierite is Chairman of the Board of Mobiloans, which employs more than 30 individuals on the Tribal reservation, while providing numerous outsourced jobs. 

“We put together a strategic plan where we can piggyback off our lending enterprise to create more job opportunities by doing our own collections and also running our own call centers,” Chairman Pierite previously told Native Business.

Another online-based revenue stream for the Mississippi Choctaws is on-premise mobile sports betting at Pearl River Resort.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is responsible for opening the first Tribally owned and operated independent sportsbook in the country at Pearl River Resort in August 2018. The following year, the Tribe added mobile on-premise wagering.

READ MORE: Mississippi Band of Choctaws Demonstrate Value of Sports Betting in Indian Country 

That’s something Tribal Chief Cyrus Ben spoke to during an Indian Gaming panel at the Native Business Virtual Summit, also featuring panelists Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman and national spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), and Mescalero Apache Tribal President Gabe Aguilar. 

Broadband is essential 21st Century infrastructure — for education, healthcare and emergency services. It’s also fundamental for most modern-day businesses in addition to attracting outside investors. 

The Tribe currently provides permanent, full-time jobs for over 5,000 Tribal-member and non-Indian employees, and the Tribe is a major contributor to the state’s economy.

But there’s vast room for improvement — and expanding broadband is central to that. 

The 11,000-member Mississippi Band of Choctaw’s lands cover over 35,000 acres in 10 counties. While much of its reservation is connected to the Internet, several communities remain on the other side of the digital divide. 

Fortunately, two 2.5 GHz licenses recently awarded by the FCC will empower the Tribe to introduce wireless broadband service in portions of two communities, the Bogue Chitto and Conehatta, enabling the further advancement of business, entrepreneurship and employment opportunities for residents, in addition to vital improvements in schooling, health and emergency services.  

The FCC received over 400 applications as part of its Rural Tribal Priority Window, in which Tribes in rural areas were able to apply for direct access to unassigned spectrum over their Tribal lands. 

As the FCC continues to review applications received before the September 2, 2020 deadline, 154 Tribes were selected to receive one of the first set of licenses, which were announced on October 23. Among those 154 Tribes was the Mississippi Choctaws.

“As soon as we learned of this license offering from the FCC, we began the application process,” Choctaw Economic Development Director John Hendrix said. “Connectivity is a primary consideration for our Tribe, especially with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He continues, “With this license and future broadband deployment, the MBCI is not only aiming to keep people safe at home and connected to essential services like schooling and healthcare during emergencies, but also to cultivate attractive and optimum connectivity conditions for businesses and investors.”