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More Broadband Money Goes to Tribal Lands

August 13, 2022 by Madeline Hughes
More Broadband Money Goes to Tribal Lands
Santa Fe Indian School. (Interior Dept. Photo)

WASHINGTON — Five Native American tribes in New Mexico received $146 million Thursday to expand broadband to their residents.

“This award will provide vital infrastructure and will allow Santo Domingo Pueblo community members to have access to critical infrastructure needed for education, telehealth and other essential services in today’s world,” said Sidelio Tenorio, Gov. of Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico. 

The Santo Domingo Pueblo was joined by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Hopi Tribe and the Santa Fe Indian School in receiving funds Thursday from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration during an Internet for All event held by the White House. At the event, the administration announced it was expanding the popular Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program with another $1 billion in funding.

“Tribal lands have been called the least-connected places in America. The Biden-Harris administration will change that,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a statement. 

“These grants are just the beginning. President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law has given us the resources to provide transformative infrastructure to native communities, bringing new economic and educational opportunities while enabling tribes to preserve their cultural identity and traditions.”

The additional money allocated brings the total to nearly $2 billion of broadband funding through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. The government received more than 300 applications for funds totaling over $5 billion in requests.

So far the administration has awarded 51 grants totaling more than $290 million.

“We made available an additional $1 billion in grants this year to connect tribal communities … but there are still so many communities that do not have access to high-speed Internet — too many,” said Vice President Kamala Harris during a press call Thursday.

These funds will help extend the internet to native communities, and residents will also get a $75-a-month subsidy through the Affordable Connectivity Program that will be paid directly to internet providers, Harris highlighted.

“So far, we have signed up 185,000 households in native communities,” she said.

Thousands of Native Americans will gain internet access in their homes through these investments.

Tenorio’s residents are receiving $12.7 million to connect 680 households of his tribe to the internet through fiber and wireless towers.

It’s an especially important investment after the pandemic forced many everyday activities — from work to school to doctors appointments — online, Tenorio said.

“For too many decades, Santo Domingo Pueblo has been like many other Indian tribes with limited to zero internet capabilities for our community members. At the beginning of the pandemic, while much of … American society began working from home and engaging in distance learning, many of our school-aged children had a parent drive them several miles and park near the interstate so they would have cellphone reception as they would complete their homework on their cellphones,” Tenorio said in a statement. “Also, without connectivity, our most vulnerable community members had zero ability to access telehealth services.”

The 700 students in grades seven to 12 at the Santa Fe Indian School will get internet brought into their homes through fiber optic cables because of a $57 million investment through this program.

“During the pandemic, we learned overnight that fast, reliable and affordable internet access was essential for remote teaching and learning as our students returned to their homes across 22 tribal lands in New Mexico, some of the least-connected rural areas in the U.S.,” said Kimball Sekaquaptewa, chief technology officer of the Hopi Tribe. 

“We, in turn, focused on a long-term solution to bring broadband into the homes of our students by creating a Pueblo Education Network, connecting tribal lands in a way that connects our tribal schools and libraries to each other and to higher education partners,” Sekaquaptewa said.

This announcement awarding $146 million in broadband funds comes after the Biden administration announced $51 million in funding for Alaskan tribes. Overall this month, it expects to announce $500 million towards these programs.

Madeline can be reached at maddie@thewellnews.com and @MadelineHughes

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