Broadband Summit to Decide The Future of Internet on Tribal Land

September 16, 2021 by Brock Blasdell

WASHINGTON — A variety of federal departments will come together Friday to discuss the future of broadband internet connectivity for Native American communities.

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Summit, led in part by a coalition of tribal governments, organizers and seven different federal departments, will feature a broad range of topics with one singular question — how best to spend more than $1 billion in federal funds provided to improve internet connectivity on tribal lands and across America. 

“Tribes have been left further behind in the digital divide than most areas of the country due to the consistent lack of infrastructure investment,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said. 

“This summit represents an opportunity to leverage the Biden-Harris administration’s all-of-government approach to help ensure the federal government lives up to its responsibilities to tribal communities by bringing broadband to tribal land, fueling economic development, and ensuring everyone has opportunities to succeed.” 

Tribal communities are some of the most disconnected communities in America. According to data collected by the Federal Communications Commision in the summer of 2020, only 65% of the population on tribal lands had broadband access — as compared to 98% of the population in urban areas. 

The summit has four major areas of discussion: plans for construction, long-term goals, technical solutions and potential uses for the connectivity. 

Using broadband connectivity to improve health care through telehealth services, expanding education opportunities and connecting communities are just some of the viable and valuable services up for debate at the summit. 

Improving education capabilities for students in tribal communities could be a powerhouse consideration at the summit as well, given how important the COVID-19 pandemic has made virtual learning. 

“Broadband internet is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected. Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds – a particular problem in rural and Native American communities throughout the country,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, said.

The funding behind the program stems primarily from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which established $1 billion in funds for Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants to support broadband service on tribal lands, as well as additional infrastructure funding provided through the American Rescue Plan Act and other ongoing federal funding opportunities for broadband.

Those interested can register for free and tune in virtually for broadcasts Sept. 17, Sept. 24, and Oct. 1. Registration is available until Sept. 30.

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