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Port Gamble set to join the 21st Century

LITTLE BOSTON — The Port Gamble Development Authority will be gaining faster access to the information superhighway sooner than expected.

The United States Department of Agriculture recently awarded nearly $500,000 in grant money to the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe through the Community Connectivity Rural Broadband program.

Hilda Legg, Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service for the USDA, flew in from Washington, D.C. June 10 to present a check for $498,503 to Tribal Chairman Ron Charles during a salmon luncheon at the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Center.

Legg, a native Kentuckian with a strong background in rural development, said she realizes the importance of keeping in touch with the world, especially while living in rural areas.

“I do understand where we are able to take connectivity,” she said, noting the advantages of telecommunications, such as improving medical services and teaching opportunities.

“This is what telecommunications is all about,” Legg said. “What is it going to do for the people? How is it going to make their lives better? That’s what I get excited about.”

The PGDA, the economic arm of the tribe, applied for the grant last year and competed with other communities around the United States for a share of more than $20 million in funds. Competition for this money was high. Legg pointed out that there were no special rules for groups such as tribes in the nationwide competition.

While the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe still has to come up with an additional $75,000 for the broadband system, its members are excited by the news, said Phil Dorn, director of PGDA.

When the Kitsap Public Utilities District laid fiber optics at George’s Corner last year, the PGDA worked with the county to extend the wires to the reservation.

Because of this extension, both governmental entities and residents will benefit, Dorn said.

There will be an increase in Internet speed at Little Boston’s tribal government campus and as well as an incentive for future businesses to move on to the reservation.

The new system will save the tribe money, Dorn explained, as it will no longer have to pay for the phone connections currently used for T-1 lines once the fiber optics are lit. There are still operational costs for the fiber optics, “but overall, it’s a financial savings for us,” he said.

“On the other end of the coin, we will be able to provide computer access for the community,” Dorn explained. “(Tribal residents) will be able to come in and utilize the Internet if they don’t have it at home.”

The tribe will be required to set up 10 computer stations for public access as a requirement for the use of the USDA grant money.

Dorn said that another advantage of linking into broadband is the ability to provide connections to the reservation homes where available.

“With the new (Gliding Eagle) store going in, the second floor will be the home base for the access portal of the reservation — that’s where we’ll actually start the fiber system.”

The Gliding Eagle is being constructed next to the current store. It is expected to be open by the end of the summer and will include a bigger convenient store and gas station, as well as home the PGDA offices.

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