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Connection at Ewiiaapaayp Mountain: Indigenous Internet Infrastructure

Christian Sandvig

It’s a cloudy spring day in 2004 and Joseph is on top of a mountain on the Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation. He is climbing the tower that provides Internet service to the reservation. Joseph is a teenager and an apprentice network engineer, but it’s a job he’ll soon give up to become a valet at a nearby casino. As jobs go, it’s not much of a comparison: As a casino valet he’ll get tips, the chance to drive “some pretty nice cars,” and the chance for promotions, while as a network engineer he gets a lower hourly wage and the chance to climb and maintain 80-foot towers with no ladder. The tower he’s climbing today isn’t normal as towers go—it was already erected and thrown away once (by a cellular telephone company) before Joseph got his hands on it. Joseph’s brother Michael bought it in pieces from a salvage yard in El Centro and brought it here. “It was about what, 105 degrees, and we had to pick out all the bolts, the washers, and the nuts out of these 50 gallon drums . . . and count them all,” Michael says. The tower adds its 80 feet to the top of this 5,400-foot mountain in the Palomar Mountains, part of the rugged Peninsular Ranges that extend north from Sierra de Juarez. Michael and his colleague Matt didn’t just build the tower, they also built the road to get to the mountaintop. On the way there, “the brakes on the trailer started smoking,” said Matt, “and we were saying, ‘It shouldn’t be this heavy.’” They had accidentally bought a steel tower instead of an aluminum one. “We had to get the whole foundation re-engineered,” Michael said. Speaking of the broadband Internet system that they both run, Matt added, “We built the network before we knew how it worked exactly.” (Continue Reading)

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