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Partnering for Success: How an Indigenous Nation Recruited a Subsea Cable Dream Team

Partnering for Success: How an Indigenous Nation Recruited a Subsea Cable Dream Team

Internet access in the Pacific Northwest is more inconsistent than some people may realize. Particularly in rural and sparsely populated areas, the connectivity options are typically far below the standards of speed, bandwidth, and reliability people can expect in urban and suburban areas, and even below the minimum FCC guidelines. As inhabitants of one of the more rural areas of Washington State, the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) has devoted years to the search for improved internet connectivity options on the reservation.


Quick Take:

  • Toptana originated from a combination of need and opportunity: the high-level, regional need for new subsea cable and the Quinault Indian Nation’s (QIN) unique circumstances – a quest for broadband connectivity, coupled with sovereignty and adjudicated ocean rights on Washington State’s coast – precisely where a subsea cable was most urgently needed
  • To determine the feasibility of the project and later create an operational team to bring the project to life, QIN pulled together the best in outside expertise
  • Toptana’s launch and ongoing success will be thanks, in part, to the years of hard work from a talented coalition of specialized experts who have worked together to bring QIN’s vision to reality

Internet access in the Pacific Northwest is more inconsistent than some people may realize. Particularly in rural and sparsely populated areas, the connectivity options are typically far below the standards of speed, bandwidth, and reliability people can expect in urban and suburban areas. The Quinault Indian Nation has devoted years to the search for improved internet connectivity options on the reservation. Hundreds of acres on Washington State’s coast – both on and off the reservation – have little to no broadband-quality access. QIN has sought a solution to this problem for years, but no solution has ever delivered the quality of connectivity our community needs. In 2017, during the course of QIN’s ongoing efforts to address this issue, it became clear that there was a much broader need for connectivity in the region. Part of the underlying issue, QIN leadership learned, was the fact that Washington state had not laid any new subsea cable in over twenty years. Subsea cable would be an essential precursor to the terrestrial network the QIN needed on their own land. Despite a number of feasibility studies in other areas along the coast of Washington over the years, no location had been deemed suitable for the project, so the need remained unmet. It was then that QIN decided to explore the possibility of such a project on its own shores.

Building a cable landing station (CLS) facility capable of connecting to thousands of miles of subsea and fiber optic cable, plus planning a full build of a terrestrial backhaul network across two states, is a massive infrastructure project. QIN knew that our years of experience operating businesses would be valuable, but it would not be the only skill needed to bring this project to life. A collaboration – very much in line with the spirit of the Quinault community and way of life – would draw upon strengths of different partners and make the project a success. Likewise, the careful selection of a strong board of directors would bring additional industry experts to the ongoing strategy and operation of the project, which, at the time, we called the Ocean Fiber Project.

So began a multi-step, years’ long process of due diligence, feasibility studies, and consulting with industry professionals, lawmakers, environmental experts, and other sources. This is how the Ocean Fiber Project became Toptana Technologies.

Building Blocks of a Dream Team

Our QIN team knew that finding the right players for the team from the very beginning would be key. Assured Communications (Assured) worked closely with QIN early in the due diligence process. Assured has decades of industry experience, which QIN knew would make them an excellent fit as the service provider for Toptana. As one of the first outside firms to join the venture, Assured has been responsible for managing the design and construction of the subsea fronthaul, terrestrial backhaul, and the CLS, as well as providing sales support. Assured’s experts have worked on some of the most critical infrastructure projects both in the United States and across the globe, including high assurance telecommunications projects for the federal government and other commercial organizations. Assured’s team also has strong industry partners and well-established relationships with potential customers – both important factors for Toptana’s success. 

Other key players were similarly selected based on their unique skills and experience. One by one, a strong coalition of players came together, and Toptana quickly evolved from a rough concept to a tech reality-in-progress, generating industry buzz in the process. With the complexity of Washington’s coast and related regulatory reviews, and given QIN’s firm commitment to environmental protection, environmental feasibility was the first step to tackle.

48North, an aquatic-focused environmental consulting firm based in Seattle, assisted with all environmental and permit feasibility studies, as well as marine surveys and desktop studies, to ensure the highest environmental standards would be met. QIN leadership chose the firm based on its long history of experience with subsea cable projects, including seven major trans-Pacific, regional, and scientific fiber optic cable installations in the US.

Toptana selected Tetra Tech to serve as the project’s engineering partner. The firm was hired to perform comprehensive marine surveys to ensure little to no lasting impact on the area’s marine life and fishing industry. Tetra Tech was chosen based on their decades of experience providing both feasibility and sustainability-focused environmental solutions.

As an additional step to ensure the protection and preservation of any cultural and historical artifacts encountered during the project, Toptana brought on the team at Stell. Stell’s full team of historians, archaeologists, architectural historians, ethnographers, and geomorphologists provided the technical expertise for a thorough cultural resources analysis. This included resource management plans, field surveys, site investigations, material culture analysis, stakeholder consultations and relationship building, and contextual research-based projects. This step guaranteed complete cultural preservation of the Quinault territory, which was an essential requirement.

Next, Toptana brought on PBS, a civil engineering firm, to map out the subsea and terrestrial network solutions. PBS’s team worked on the lengthy process of obtaining permitting and coordinating with the necessary agencies at every level of government. The PBS team also helped create site plans and other detailed civil engineering design work for the project. 

For the cable landing station, Highland Associates was selected as the architecture and engineering firm to assist in its design, build, and construction. Highland Associates has over three decades of experience providing architectural and engineering services to clients, including Fortune 500 companies, internet service providers (ISP), and colocation providers. Over the years, Highland’s team has planned, designed, and/or commissioned nearly 8,000,000 square feet of facilities with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) capacity of over 1,000MW.

Prior to construction, Toptana’s CLS needed preliminary planning and engineering work to outline the build, produce scheduling and cost estimates, and analyze all the necessary elements to ensure everything with the construction itself went according to plan. Toptana hired Clark Construction Group for the job. As one of the most experienced and respected building and civil construction firms in the United States with over a hundred years of work in the field, Clark’s expertise would help Toptana work through all the complex details and strategic decisions to be made ahead of breaking ground.

To provide the essential backhaul network that would power connectivity both on the reservation and throughout the Pacific Northwest, Toptana needed an experienced team. MOX Networks was selected to build the nearly 300 mile terrestrial backhaul network along I5 up to Seattle and down to Hillsboro. Operating both in North America and Asia, MOX builds functionally diverse, unique routes between Internet hubs, driven by their customers’ needs for increased speed requirements and capacity. Their years of working with fiber, coupled with their familiarity of the geography of the project, was exactly what Toptana needed for the terrestrial component of the build.

Teamwork and Technology

There is an expression, though its origins are unknown: "Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success." For a complex, capital-intensive, high-stakes infrastructure project, this is even more true. As leaders of this trailblazing project, QIN’s initial challenge was to put together the right team. This critical task was an essential precursor to the work, one which would either pave a road towards success or come apart before construction could even begin. Our QIN team rose to the challenge and assembled the strongest possible team – talented, committed, individuals working together as a community to bring their knowledge, skills, expertise, and connections together for one common goal: digital equality and connectivity for all. In that sense, Toptana is as much about teamwork as it is about technology, and our team is proud of what we’ve built – and will continue to build – together.

Final Thoughts

  • QIN knew that a project of this magnitude needed more than just our own business acumen and knowledge of our terrain – it needed the best expertise available to succeed
  • The launch of Toptana is the culmination of years of hard work and borrowed talent from a dedicated coalition of experts in their respective fields – environmental studies, civil engineering, tech construction, network architecture, and others
  • Toptana will continue to thrive, evolve, and grow through the ongoing work of its partners in the future

Looking to learn more about Toptana Technologies and the partners making this exciting project happen? Get in touch. 


About Toptana Technologies 

Toptana is driven by a vision of a truly connected world. We’re an indigenous-owned internet infrastructure and technology company focused on bringing connectivity to unserved and underserved communities. Our mission is to connect the digitally disconnected so that all people can fully participate in the digital economy. 

Our Washington State cable landing station offers subsea transpacific connectivity from the U.S. to Asia-Pacific markets. The backhaul network offers terrestrial connectivity along the I-5 corridor to Seattle, WA and Hillsboro, OR. We offer businesses the opportunity to get their traffic where it needs to go, while protecting our precious resources and improving the lives of those in need.