Tribal Telecom Company to Upgrade Broadband Infrastructure With $4.3M Grant

The Seneca Nation has received a $4.3 million injection through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect Pilot Program to bridge the digital divide on the Cattaraugus Territory in New York. 

“This service simply doesn’t exist in Cattaraugus today,” Seneca Nation Treasurer Matt Pagels told the Observer Today. “Geographically, we are only a short drive away from the second-largest city in New York, but digitally, we are generations behind. We are changing that.”

The Seneca Nation will leverage the award, combined with its own $1.5 million investment, to build a fiber-to-home broadband network that will provide connectivity to more than 1,000 households, businesses, administrative buildings and critical community facilities. 

“Access to reliable, quality internet service is critical in today’s age,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. “There is a severe and unfortunate digital divide that exists here, just as it does in rural communities across the country. Our people should not be placed at this severe disadvantage. Bringing this service to Cattaraugus will greatly impact areas like education, healthcare and the overall quality of life for the Seneca people.”

USDA officials and Seneca leaders celebrated the capital infusion on Thursday, allowing Seneca Telecommunications to install 43 miles of aerial fiber across the Cattaraugus Territory, increasing transmission rates to 100 megabits per second (Mbps) or greater.

The $4.3 million award represents the first-round of ReConnect investments made by the USDA. The total ReConnect budget is to expand broadband infrastructure in rural American is $600 million. The ReConnect Program others three funding products: 100% loan, 100% grant, and loan-grant combinations. 

“Our core mission at USDA is to increase rural prosperity, and this mission cannot be achieved without addressing the digital divide our rural communities face due to a lack of high-speed broadband internet connection,” USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy said. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

Engineering, design and construction of the network will take 2-3 years. It will eventually bring online 1,000 rural households, 58 businesses, 25 farms, three educational facilities, one healthcare facility and one critical care facility.