New Cell Site to Improve Economic Opportunity & Emergency Response on Tribal Land in Wisconsin

The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is the first Tribe to reach an agreement and break ground on a cell tower with First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent agency within the federal government, according to Paul Patrick, Tribal liaison and member of the FirstNet board. “There are people who come into this remote and rural area and they need communications and they don’t have it. But, they all have this with them — a device,” he said.

Roughly 20 percent of the Red Cliff reservation gets cell phone coverage. Once operational, the tower is expected to bring cell service to about 80 percent of the reservation and surrounding communities. Even more critically, the new infrastructure will improve connectivity for Tribal first responders.

The Tribe’s IT director Theron Rutyna said the new cell site is the culmination of about 15 years of work to bring a tower to the reservation. He added that the cell site will also advance telehealth and economic opportunity for Tribal members.

“When emergencies happen, it is critical that Tribal law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics have the reliable communications tools they need to keep the tribal members and surrounding community safe while also protecting visitors to Tribal lands,” Rutyna said. “Breaking ground on this new cell site will not only support the Public Safety mission, but it will also pave the way for new technical capabilities and innovations – furthering economic opportunity and extending access to telehealth, online learning and overall communications during emergencies.”

The new, purpose-built cell site will be located on Tribal land north of the Legendary Waters Casino & Resort, near the Apostle Islands. It’s part of the FirstNet network expansion taking place in Wisconsin, which is bringing increased coverage, capacity and capability to first responders across the state. Backed by Congress, FirstNet is a platform designed to modernize public safety communications for all first responders — whether rural, Tribal, urban or suburban.

As part of its government program, the FirstNet Authority consulted with Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to address the Public Safety communications needs on the reservation with regard to the deployment of FirstNet.

“The FirstNet Authority is honored to support the responders of the Red Cliff Reservation in their critical, lifesaving work,” said Patrick. “We are working hand-in-hand with Red Cliff to understand their needs for the network and are pleased to see them leading the way on FirstNet as the first tribal community to break ground on a new FirstNet site. We look forward to supporting Tribal communities from across the country as they use FirstNet to help their first responders save lives and protect communities.”

Janet Sievert with the Office of Native Affairs and Policy at the Federal Communications Commission commented: “We know how important this is for economic development and education and the thriving of the Tribes.”

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