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Town, tribes talking of collaboration on fast internet


Scott Hunter

Fiber optic cables hang on poles above west Coulee Dam, yet access to the current state-of-the-art tech is not available to most of the town.

The town of Coulee Dam and the Colville Tribes are negotiating on working together so that each might complete projects to bring high-speed internet service to the town and to the Colville Reservation.

"Whether we like it or not, the internet is air," Sanjay Saggere told the town council last week. "I come from a place where I could breathe internet; here I can only breathe air."

Saggere, who the tribes hired as their new chief information officer earlier this year, said that the Colville Confederated Tribes could help the town in its new goal of bringing fiber-optic, high-speed internet access capabilities to the town's infrastructure. And the town could help the tribes.

Coulee Dam's newly acquired fiber that crosses the Columbia River in a conduit under the bridge connects the reservation side of the river with the west side, where fiber enters the town, connecting it to the rest of the world.

The Colville Tribes has been working at connecting its communities to broadband speeds for years and wants to finish its goal of laying 250,000 feet of fiber-optic cable to its casino operation in Omak, among other projects, to build a backbone that includes redundancy.

Saggere, who just moved to Coulee Dam, came to the CCT from North Carolina, where he led more than 500 staff and contractors in information technology for the Dept. of Health, then moved to Svzn Co as CIO and chief strategy officer, according to his LinkedIn account.

He said the community has the potential to have internet services like that of cities that have Google Fiber.

Tribal IT Manager Jimmy Jackson said getting across the bridge with their own fiber, to avoid dealing with previous owners of what is now the city's fiber, would likely cost up to $300,000.

That's been a delaying factor in the project to extend fiber to Omak, for which the CCT had set aside $6 million in 2006. Earlier this month the tribal council approved carrying over $2.5 million of those leftover funds for the project, reported the Tribal Tribune.

Jackson said the tribe has held expert classes to train and certify tribal members as fiber technicians, and more than 30 are available should a contractor need them.

Coulee Dam council members have talked about the town's big challenge being the work of putting the fiber all over town.

A town council committee of Keith St. Jeor and Marcia Warneke, plus Mayor Larry Price have been meeting with the two to explore the possibilities, and attorneys for the town and tribes were in negotiations for a working agreement.

"Let's keep the ball rolling," Saggere said.

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