TAHLEQUAH, Okla — Cherokee Nation is working to connect Cherokee residents to affordable, high-speed internet with a new pilot project.
Recently, the Tribe began installing Starlink in rural locations in an effort to expand service to unserved and underserved areas across the reservation, which will come with many benefits, such as connecting Cherokee speakers to one another, giving kids living in rural communities a chance at a better education and allowing elderly the ability to access telehealth.
For many years there has been a digital divide, where those in rural communities have had little to no reliable internet access, and residents living in those areas have suffered financial, medical and educational hardships.
Cherokee Nation Chief, Chuck Hoskin, said the Tribe needs the technology of SpaceX's satellite internet project to connect people who live in rural areas with the rest of the world, and he wants to get it to those who need it.
Starlink satellites are over 60 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites, resulting in lower latency and the ability to support services typically not possible with traditional satellite internet, according to Starlink.
Speaking on the benefits reliable internet will bring to the Cherokee people, Hoskin said, "Every kid, every Cherokee kid that grows up, I don't care where they grow up, they shouldn't have a disadvantage when it comes to something that's as basic anymore as getting online and getting an education, getting a job."
Healthcare became harder to access during the pandemic, and telehealth provided a way for people to have many healthcare needs met from the safety of their homes, a convenience that was especially beneficial to the elderly under the threat of COVID. Those living in rural areas without internet did not have that option.
A Cherokee Nation Environmental Protections representative said, "It became very evident during the pandemic that telehealth and telemedicine were very important for health care providers to reach their patients, and we worked earlier today with a family that couldn't do a telehealth visit because they had unreliable internet service."
When the couple was shown examples of what they can look forward to with Starlink internet service and the benefits of telehealth visits, the husband said, "I think that's a good deal you got that done. Places like this sure need that."
Image: Cherokee couple see possibilities new Starlink install brings
Chief Hoskin is dedicated to the mission of preserving the Cherokee language. In September 2019, he announced the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, the largest investment in Cherokee language programs made in Cherokee Nation history.
A Tribal member explained that connecting members of the Tribe to the internet connects them to each other. Many Cherokee speakers do not have access to one another without accessing the internet.
In July 2020, Howard Paden, Executive Director, Durbin Feeling Language Center said, “Unfortunately, we’re losing upwards of a hundred fluent Cherokee speakers a year,” Paden said. “We recently lost seven alone in one month, three of them from COVID-19.”
Hoskin said, "I think there is going to be a time in the near future where you all, and other people in your community, are talking to Cherokee language students from your community. Maybe they can't be in your community, but they can reach into your community through the internet."
According to Starlink, it is now delivering initial beta service both domestically and internationally and will continue expansion to near-global coverage of the populated world in 2021.
Cherokee Nation's first installations have been for Cherokee-speaking elders in the Belfonte Community with limited to no internet service and being used as a test to see how reliable the service will be.
WATCH: Learn about Starlink