Byron Wysocki launched wireless broadband Internet on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in 2001 as an Oregon State University freshman. “We started out with very little capital and just kind of kept building up from there,” Wysocki told the East Oregonian.
Initially, he aimed to bring high-speed Internet to his parents’ home on the Umatilla reservation in eastern Oregon, and in the long-term, build a successful company capable of generating jobs and income for the rural-area residents—jobs equal in pay to those available in the closest big cities of Portland or Corvallis. “I like living in a smaller community. With the Internet and technology nowadays, there’s no reason why you have to live in a larger city,” Wysocki told the East Oregonian.
His company Wtechlink Inc. currently serves more than a thousand Pendleton-area residents. And keeping pace with technology, Wysocki is upgrading to a fiber optic network, which he says will sufficiently serve the area for another two to three decades. The new infrastructure will speed up the service from its current 10 megabits per second, which he equated to a person jogging at 10 miles per hour, to 1,000 megabits per second through fiber optic cables.
While his primary customer base does not require the 1,000-megabit speeds today, Wysocki acknowledges that consumer demand for faster Internet is growing rapidly, reported the East Oregonian. With streaming services such as Netflix gaining in popularity, he predicted that in 10 years, people will consume all media on demand via the Internet—drastically increasing how much bandwidth customers will require.
Unlike the seemingly instantaneous speed of the fiber-optic Internet, success came slowly for Wysocki, who didn’t draw a salary until 2006. Neither did his business partner Jordan McDonald, who was a junior at Pendleton High School when he joined the company in 2002. Now the company claims six full-time employees and intends to expand to 10 full-time jobs by summer and 20 sometime in the future.
Broad Demand for Broadband
Other technology pioneers within Indian country have introduced wireless Internet to service their reservations. In 2008, Standing Rock Sioux officials decided their reservation along the North Dakota-South Dakota divide, which they referred to as a “communication dead zone,” should meet the rising digital demand, reported the Associated Press.
The tribe created a company Standing Rock Telecom to devise a wireless network to serve at least 16,000 customers with cellular and high-speed internet, amongst other services, for residents and businesses throughout the reservation.
“It’s a very ambitious project,” said Dwight Schmitt, president of Standing Rock Telecom, of the multimillion-dollar, privately funded venture, to the AP during its 2008 inception.
Through working with the Federal Communications Commission in the early 2000s, Standing Rock Telecom purchased a wireless spectrum from a subsidiary of Sprint. According to the AP, most tribes have not built wireless networks from the ground up. Instead, tribes have purchased wireless operators. For instance, the Blackfeet Nation owns 51 percent of Oki Communications in Montana, which launched in November 2006.