I was lucky enough to participate in the first Tribal Broadband Summit. I haven’t been able to take my usual notes – because I’ve been giving a few presentations but I’m happy to share the high level view.
Tribal lands are in desperate shape for broadband access – and it can be a matter or life and death. We’ve heard stories of people not getting medical attention because of lack of infrastructure. (Really phones – but as you can imagine, no phones means no internet.)
There are a few reservations that are in better shape – thanks to some heavy lifting by awesome champions. I’m always impressed with the champions of deployment who go from knowing nothing about broadband to knowing every nuance – because they have to. It’s like me learning how to build a car – just so I can drive it.
People recognize that a hybrid network (wired-wireless) is probably the best way to go to reach some people in remote locations. But in the same breathe people recognize the impact of weather and other forces on wireless technology. (There are a few folks from Alaska here.)
Attendees are interested in broadband use. Libraries are key players – both in use and deployment. People have been creative with white spaces and e-rate.
FCC Chair Pai spoke on the first day. He announced a new program to get spectrum to tribal areas…
One new policy I’m particularly excited about will give Tribes priority access to spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band. This band is the largest contiguous block of spectrum below 3 GHz in the United States. But today, this valuable spectrum currently isn’t used in most of the Western United States. That’s partly because technological advances have rendered the band’s original intended uses outdated, and partly because arcane rules have left it dramatically underused. So this summer, the FCC took action. We removed obsolete restrictions on this band, allowing greater flexibility in how the spectrum can be used. But here’s the big news you’ll want to know about: We’re giving rural Indian tribes an exclusive window to obtain this spectrum to serve rural Tribal lands. That’s right. Before any commercial auction of this spectrum, Tribes can obtain this spectrum for free. This is the first time in the FCC’s history that we have ever given Tribal entities what we call a “priority window” to obtain spectrum for wireless broadband. I’m proud that it is happening under my watch, and I hope that Tribes will take advantage of it.
Head of Dep of Education Betsy DeVos spoke about the value of broadband and importance of government getting out of the way of better broadband. Many other government officials in the room proudly spoke about the support they have given to get broadband and broadband programming onto tribal lands. For example the Institute for Museums and Library Services has awarded over $60 million in 15 years for grants invested in library tribal services – for online archiving, digital inclusion, online storytelling.
I learned about MLab – a cool tool to help track and map broadband use and services.
And I tried to talk up the Minnesota Broadband model. Here are the presentations…