Karuk and Yurok tribe leaders lauded for broadband project; technology will be brought to rural Humboldt communities

Karuk and Yurok tribe leaders were honored on Thursday for their tireless efforts to bring broadband Internet service to rural Northern Humboldt by a nonprofit that supports broadband deployment projects in California.

Karuk Tribe Informational Technology Director Eric Cutright and Yurok Tribe Information Service Director Paul Romero were named 2014 broadband champions by the California Emerging Technology Fund in San Francisco.

"The reason we're recognizing Eric and Paul is these two individuals, after years of unmet promises by the Internet service providers and telecommunication companies, decided they couldn't wait any longer," California Engineering Technology Fund Director of Communications Mary Anne Ostrom said. "They got together and formed a coalition to bring broadband to some of the farthest reaches of (Northern) Humboldt County."

The Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative will raise 1990s technology in Orleans, Orick, Johnsons, Wautec and Weitchpec up to the level of what is in large metropolitan areas, Cutright and Romero said.

Just over 82 miles of fiber optic cables will be installed thanks to a $6.6 million grant from the California Public Utilities Commission when the project is complete.

"I think it's going to be life-changing," Cutright said.

People will be able to take online college courses, health centers will be able to make health records electronic and law enforcement agencies will be able to improve communication, he added.

The project also expands on a Karuk Tribe broadband project. In 2011, the tribe received a $1.14 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to install fiber optic cables for broadband services in Orleans.

Both Cutright and Romero said they are honored to be broadband champions.

"It just feels really great and incredible to be recognized," Romero said. "I just want everybody, not only the tribal government, but everyone on the reservation to have access to what everybody else in the United States, for the most part, has access to."

Cutright said he hopes to use this as an impetus to keep the projects moving forward in order to help the tribal members and Humboldt County residents.

"They're the ones living in substandard conditions, meaning lack of utility conditions," he said.

Ostrom said the nonprofit was looking for recipients who find solutions.

"Part of that includes being a leader, having a vision, being able to identify a problem and solve it," she said. "Frankly, in this case, and in a lot of other stories, are people who have been working on problems for a long time, and they never gave up."

Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or lrodriguez@times-standard.com. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.