Federal COVID-19 DISASTER in Indian Country Act

I knew this would be of interest to many readers. From U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland

The Problem: Lack of access to broadband networks has left approximately 1.5 million people living on tribal
lands without access to basic healthcare public safety, and educational services. Due to the increased
necessity of wireless services during this national crisis, lack of connectivity in Indian Country has left Tribes
further behind in the digital divide resulting in devastating impacts of coronavirus on reservations.
These alarming rates are unacceptable during a national emergency. Regardless of where you live, everyone
should have equal access to wireless broadband networks to access to life-saving health care, public safety,
and educational opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis.
Background: Indian reservations are some of the most digitally disconnected areas in the world, with
broadband and wireless penetration rates lower than some third-world countries. Even though the United
States ranks above the world average for fixed broadband services, only 65 percent of Native Americans
living on tribal lands have access to broadband compared to 92 percent of Americans living off-reservation
lands.
The Government Accountability Office found that health information technology systems at the Indian Health
Service (IHS) rank as the Federal Government’s third-highest need for agency system modernization since 50
percent of Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities depend on outdated circuit connections, resulting in slower
response times than any other health facility system in the United States. Additionally, the Bureau of Indian
Education’s (BIE) recent estimates collected from 142 BIE schools have reported that a wide range of students
— up to 95 percent in some cases — don’t have access to broadband at home due to Indian Tribes’
geographically isolated locations and data cap limitations.
COVID-19 Designation of Immediate Special Authority of Spectrum for Tribes’ Emergency Response in Indian
Country Act directs the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wirelesses Telecommunications Bureau
to grant Tribes emergency temporary authority of available spectrum to efficiently support wireless
broadband networks over Tribal lands and Hawaiian Homelands. This will allow Tribes to immediately deploy
wireless services so Native Americans can access basic life-saving resources like anyone else. Specifically, this
bill aims to deploy wireless networks in Indian Country by granting:
• Emergency special temporary authority of available spectrum to efficiently support wireless services
• Grants $300 million to USDA’s Community Facility Grant Program for immediate deployment of
broadband networks, repairs to damaged infrastructure, and technical assistance
• Extends Emergency Special Temporary Authority of spectrum on tribal lands to operate for 6 months

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