May 25th, 2022 Last Updated on: May 26th, 2022
Indigenous People in the U.S. have long been impacted by the “digital divide” — that is, the gap between those who have access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet and those who do not.
According to an American Indian Policy Institute analysis of federal data, fixed broadband services reached 95.6% of the nation as a whole, but just 67 percent of tribal lands in the continental U.S. have access to broadband internet, with the majority only having access to broadband speeds considered by the Federal Communications Commission to be less than “minimally acceptable.”
However, that could soon change, thanks to a new initiative called the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced in early May that it had awarded 19 grants more grants as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, bringing the total number of grants to 33, totaling more than $83 million in funding. The awards will be used for broadband deployment on tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion.
“Affordable access to the Internet opens a world of life-saving technologies, economic opportunities, remote learning, and countless other essential benefits,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information. “[This initiative] is playing a crucial role in closing the digital divide and expanding internet to tribal communities across America.”
The latest batch of grants are being awarded in 10 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington.
They will fund internet use and adoption projects to improve healthcare, workforce development, education, housing, and social services in tribal communities. For example, the Gila River Indian Community grant will assist in telehealth expansion, distance learning opportunities and digital inclusion efforts.
“For far too long, Tribal Communities have been cut off from the benefits of high-speed internet, as well as the associated economic benefits that come with it. From running a business to taking online classes to scheduling a doctor’s appointment, the internet is a necessary tool for participating in our modern economy, and it’s an absolute injustice that this resource has been deprived from so many Native Americans across our country,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo.
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program will make a total of $980 million available for grants to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities. Though still early on in the process, the initiative appears to be an important step forward for giving Native Americans internet access that's reliable and affordable.
More information about the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program can be found on the BroadbandUSA website.
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