Osage Nation, city partner on Wi-Fi system

Osage Nation

The Osage Nation and the city of Pawhuska have been collaborating on the development of a municipal Wi-Fi system for public use. The system will provide a free Internet connection for residents and visitors. Initial service is expected to start before the end of the year.

The project has been made possible through the use of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funds, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27 in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

Access to a quality Internet connection is a major obstacle to providing remote working, distance learning, and telehealth services to the public. Many areas of rural America continue to suffer from a lack of access to an affordable, quality, broadband Internet connection.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought this condition to the attention of every government, school, or business. Everyone was looking for efficient ways to stay connected with citizens, students, and or employees remotely. The absence of available broadband makes remote access nearly impossible. The collaborative effort between the Osage Nation and the city of Pawhuska begins the process of improving that situation in Pawhuska.

“It has been said that broadband Internet access is today and tomorrow's highway, replacing the asphalt and concrete highways of today. Just as the highways and roads we travel on replaced the railroads and rivers of the past, the Internet is how information travels now and in the foreseeable future,” Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said.

“Here at the Osage Nation, Internet access is primitive compared to many parts of the developed world. Many of us still rely on satellite for Internet service and streaming of media is difficult," Standing Bear said. "Building a broadband system is necessary for many reasons. Distance learning, business communications, and social interactions, through the use of the Internet supports our people’s work, education, entertainment, culture, language, and much more.

"The Osage people will be able to live here in our territory and access the entire planet with modern broadband Internet," Standing Bear said. "We can gain access to every kind of education that you can receive in a classroom. We can share knowledge and experience. To build it, we will use our skills and funds in partnership with the local governments and businesses. We thank the city of Pawhuska for their partnership in this phase of our broadband Internet construction.”

Although the new municipal Wi-Fi system will provide service to many areas of the city, it will not be able to offer comprehensive coverage initially. R.M. Kirk, Osage Nation’s Information Services director, addressed this issue.

“The municipal Wi-Fi will only be available in certain parts of town this year," Kirk said. "We’re calling it Phase-1 of the project. However, the system is designed to easily be expanded as additional funds become available.”

Kirk said the Osage Nation has been interested for years in building a Wi-Fi system.

“Osage Nation has looked for ways to build a system like this for many years; it’s just been hard to locate funding," Kirk said. "The CARES Act provided the funds and Chief Standing Bear gave us the approval to make it happen. Additionally, I can’t overstate the importance of partnering with the city on this project. Without access to their infrastructure, building a network like this wouldn’t be possible.

"One last thing I want to make clear, the Wi-Fi system is intended to help close the 'Digital Divide' by providing a good Internet connection. The technology does have limitations. It’s not intended to be a replacement for a dedicated broadband connection. We still have a lot of work to do both here and in the rest of Osage County.”

The municipal Wi-Fi project is based on programs put in place by other municipalities throughout the country. In communities where municipal Wi-Fi has been installed, it has become a valuable tool for both citizen engagement and tourism.

“The city of Pawhuska is looking forward to working with Osage Nation and making forward progress with a Wi-Fi system," said Tonya Bright, Pawhuska's interim city manager. "We will continue to work together to improve our Internet connection locally. We also anticipate collaborating with Osage Nation on future projects as our city continues to grow.”