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Infrastructure Development & Financing. Eric Jensen. Four Horizons Development Company. Telecommunications, Broadband and Tribal Sovereignty.
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Infrastructure Development & Financing Eric Jensen Four Horizons Development Company
Telecommunications, Broadband and Tribal Sovereignty • Broadband—defined by the FCC as 256 kbs, and by others as megabytes, the amount required to transmit moving pictures--is fairly non-existent in Indian Country and rural communities; • Of the 562 federally recognized tribes, only 7 tribes have been able to build its own tribal telecommunications systems; • Not for everyone? Broadband is a tool for self-sufficiency, governance, education, economic opportunity • The Mescalero story
Key Questions Before Committing to an Infrastructure Plan • What are the needs of the tribe: data management; voice coverage; network linkage; capacity; degree of reliability versus cost; Broadband requirements • Primary consideration: How will the Tribe pay for the infrastructure? Will the teleco be a Tribal service with sufficient tribal funds & resources to service the capital and operational debts or will the teleco be a self-sufficient enterprise? • This decision on coverage, service or revenue emphasis will effect investment and loan options
Familiar Landscapes & Problems • Too many communities run down the communications road by focusing on technology first, without a sense of how revenues or debts service or operational costs will be met; • Nearly every tribe is engaged in the annual struggle to patchwork extend or repair pieces of their internal network system, with limited budgets and no return on their investment; • Tribes find new technologies like Wireless, satellite, cable and voice over IP attractive;
Conceptual Shifts for Tribal Communities • Look at the long-term communications needs of the community, not just the network and patchwork needs; • Telecommunications isn’t traditional economic development; it is the fundamental foundation to support enterprise and develop skills; • Become an owner rather than a renter; • Broadband is a powerful tool that the tribe can develop to preserve culture, language and community;
Technology • Look to solutions, not to technology: it all becomes obsolete quickly; • Look to interoperability, scale-ability and redundancy; • Any technology will do, providing one pays; • Cost isn’t everything: reliability, flexibility and revenue options are more important;
Let the Buyer Beware • If the Tribe wants to become a carrier of last resort for its own people, can the technologies that are popular,wireless, satellite, cable, VOIP, do the job meet the service needs of the community? Can it generate a revenue and will it be sufficient to service the capital debt, pay for operations and expand next generation services? What are the regulatory burdens that may or hamper deployment of full range services for the tribe? • What are the biases of the vendors, of the tribal network techies, of the planners & consultants?
Financing • There are many ways to finance the infrastructure, and experts will address this: loans, private investors, RUS loans, bonding, vendor financing, alliance schemes—be careful and understand that each option comes with a cost and a downside; • Firewall and protect your teleco enterprise and its revenues from the reaches of other tribal projects and from tribal politics—promote stability;
It’s Still all about Sovereignty • Promote the self-governance of the tribe; • Increase economic opportunities; • Control technology and solution choices; • Become an owner, not a renter; • Look to rational financing and revenue returns; • Limit the liability of the tribe; • Build the future of the tribe and its children.
Help is Available • Learning opportunities: forums like this, FCC forums; • RUS, consultants who are here today; • The Mescalero Apache Telecommunications Company (MATI), the first tribal Teleco to try to teach other tribes about operating their own teleco; • Four Horizons Development Company, in partnership with MATI, helps tribes build telecommunications companies.
Thank You. Eric Jensen Four Horizons Development Company