The National Congress of American Indians of the United States have released recommendations for the Biden Administration to help the optimize the “opportunity to make meaningful advancements in the social and economic well-being of American Indians and Alaska Natives.” There are 25 areas of focus, each with background and recommendations. Broadband is included; they start with the description of need…
Tribal communities are disproportionately unserved or underserved when it comes to access to high-speed internet. According to a 2019 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report, individuals residing on tribal lands are nearly 4.5 times as likely to lack any terrestrial broadband internet access as those on non-tribal lands. Even when examining fixed broadband deployment at speeds lower than the FCC’s definition of “broadband,” 25 percent of homes on tribal lands have no wired option for 10/1 Mbps service. By contrast, only 6 percent of homes on non-tribal lands lack coverage by any wired provider. Further, the Government Accountability Office and FCC agree that this available data overstates the extent of broadband access on tribal lands, meaning the true extent of the digital divide in Indian Country is even worse than FCC reports indicate.
A top priority is a Tribal Broadband Fund…
Congress must create a Tribal Broadband Fund in order to empower new market opportunities and direct spending in Indian Country for its highest and best purpose. In order to address the digital divide in Indian Country, Congress must also create an interagency committee with representation from the FCC’s Wireless and Wireline Bureaus, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, DOC’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and DOI’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to report on how to best coordinate federal resources from the various agencies to achieve broadband connectivity in Indian Country. This recommendation is consistent with the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which recommends that “Congress should consider establishing a Tribal Broadband Fund to support sustainable broadband deployment and adoption on Tribal lands, and all federal agencies that upgrade connectivity on tribal lands should coordinate such upgrades with Tribal governments and the Tribal Broadband Fund grant-making process.”
There are thoughtful and detailed recommendations.
Recommend actions for the first 100 days:
- Establish the Office of Native Affairs and Policy as an independent office at the FCC.
- Include a permanent, dedicated budget request of $2 million in the FCC’s Annual Budget Request to Congress for FCC-ONAP to ensure the FCC’s commitment to consult with Tribal Nations is preserved and exercised.
- Recommit to and further develop the FCC’s Consultation, Training, and Workshops.
Federal Communications Commission
- Establish a Tribal Broadband Fund within the Universal Service Fund (USF).
- Repeal all “rurality” restrictions on FCC proceedings of tribal interest.
- Increase Tribal Nations’ access to spectrum licenses.
- Establish a “Tribal Priority” for E-rate funding.
- Request Congress and the Administration to advocate for statutory changes to recognize tribal authority to designate what constitutes a “library” on tribal lands.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Coordinate with the FCC to participate in its tribal consultation, training, and workshop engagement with Indian Country.
- USDA should work with Congress to create “set-asides” in USDA programs for tribal broadband deployment, and expand the Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA) Provisions across the programs of Rural Development.
- USDA should create “highest grant” attention and prioritizations for tribal applications in the Department’s Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA) Provisions within its programs.
U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC)
- Make the “Native American Affairs Liaison” position permanent and establish an Office of Native Affairs and Policy to work directly with the Secretary of Commerce.
Recommendations for Administration
- Support and preserve the ongoing work and directives of the White House Broadband Opportunity Council.
- Further coordination between the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Education (ED).