Access to computers, devices and broadband is barrier to some in tribal areas – so phone use is taking over

The Circle: Native American News and Arts writes on the limited reach of telehealth – especially for elders and those without broadband…

A quick survey with Native tribes and urban Native American groups in Minnesota shows the divide is probably most acute with elders not technologically savvy to use telemedicine opportunities to confer with doctors or others.

People needing medical attention not related to COVID-19 may need a computer to learn how to use their telephones to confer with medical professionals through telephones and various smartphone devices using Zoom and other visual applications.

One solution has been to open up use of the telephone…

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), the state’s point department for administering the state’s Minnesota Health Care Programs (MHCP), and the Indian Health Board in Minneapolis have helpful resources for turning to telemedicine conferences as a stopgap measure while taking precautions against exposure to the virus.

Again, that information is not easily reached by elderly who do not have computers and Internet service, by the homeless, by people in temporary housing with friends or relatives, and others the Philly writers describe as on the downside of the digital divide.

“Expanding telemedicine coverage and allowing many services to be delivered via telephone have been essential steps to accommodate social distancing and isolation necessary during this public health emergency,” DHS said in a prepared statement for The Circle.

“This includes assessments and services provided to enrollees (in Minnesota state programs) who are elderly and disabled.”

To help medical providers make telemedicine more available to state program enrollees who may not have technology devices or reliable broadband service, DHS expanded providers’ use of telephone calls when doing so was considered safe and effective.

FCC presentation for MN & WI Tribes on federal funding: video

Thanks to the FCC for sharing their recent presentation to folks who could (and would) share information to tribal communities about the potential of federal funding for broadband. They spoke in great details about 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal opportunity. First they heard about all of the policy details, then (after an hour or so) really dove into the technology of 2.5 Ghz.

Dakota Language gets new life with Zoom

MN Public Radio reports…

These days, Dakota — the native language of the Prairie Island Indian Community — isn’t widely spoken.

But the tribe is trying to change that and the pandemic has offered them an unusual opportunity to do so: by bringing language classes online, they’ve been able to reach more members than ever before.

In person classes have typically attracted a handful of people, said tribe communications manager Rayanna Lennes.

Using technology like Zoom to teach live classes, and archiving them online, gives far-flung tribal members an opportunity to reconnect with their language — and each other.

I love this. The loss of a language is huge loss to the culture and to see how technology is bringing it back is amazing.

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

MN PUC decides that Feds have jurisdiction over Fond du Lac broadband company

West Central Tribune reports…

Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday, April 16 agreed that their federal counterparts should be the ones to have jurisdiction over the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s community-owned broadband company.

The band had earlier pushed for federal oversight in filings with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Members of the commission unanimously ruled in the band’s favor during an online meeting Thursday morning, April 16.

The band is looking “eligible telecommunications carrier” for the reservation and three small adjacent areas – where there are apparently three households…

Attorneys for the band have argued that its broadband company, Fond du Lac Communications, should answer to the Federal Communications Commission on the basis of tribal sovereignty. Reservation officials have sought to deal directly with the FCC in their efforts to secure an “eligible telecommunications carrier” designation for the company, something the MPUC normally grants.

Doing so would open up the company to a stream of federal funding through the Lifeline, a benefit program that helps qualifying low-income households to save on their monthly phone and internet bills. Officials say the program could be crucial for the more than 20% of reservation households that fall below the poverty line.

While the program typically provides subscribers with discounts of up to $9.25 a month, those on tribal lands can save as much as $34.25. Only about 50,300 households use Lifeline in Minnesota, according to the most recent PUC data from 2018

It is unclear when or if the band expects its petition for Lifeline eligibility to be approved by the FCC. A spokesperson declined to comment.

Ask the FCC to extend the deadline for 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window

The 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window is…

This window is a unique opportunity for Tribes in rural areas to directly access unassigned spectrum over their Tribal lands, subject to buildout requirements. The 2.5 GHz band is suitable for both mobile coverage and fixed point-to-point uses, and is currently used to provide broadband service by legacy educational licensees and commercial providers that lease the spectrum. Depending on your needs, it can play an important role in the deployment of broadband and other advanced communications services on your Tribal lands. Please find more detailed information below, including how to determine whether 2.5 GHz spectrum is available over your Tribal lands.

The Rural Tribal Priority Window opened Monday, February 3, 2020, and closes on Monday, August 3, 2020 at 6PM EDT. Click the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window Submitted Applications link under Related Links to view a list of submitted applications.

Unfortunately the deadline of Aug 3, 2020 has become unrealistic given the state of the nation under pandemic. Stakeholders are sending letters (see sample) to the FCC asking them to extend the deadline.

A big gap between urban, rural and tribal broadband access

I’m catching up on non-Minnesota broadband reading today. The NTIA recently wrote about the last iteration of the National Broadband Map as it stands today. (The FCC will be picking up the job via 477data collection.) I’m going to paste in a bigger chunk for context but it’s really the last bullet point that caught my eye: The latest data finds that only 55 percent of those in rural communities, and 32 percent of tribal lands have access to broadband at 25 mbps compared with 94 percent of urban areas.

Our job as broadband advocates really isn’t done until both of those gaps are closed.

The most significant finding from the latest data, announced by President Obama [4]earlier today, is that the United States has met the President’s goal [5] of ensuring 98 percent of the country has access to wireless broadband at a speed of at least 6 megabits per second (Mbps) down/1.5 Mbps up. Other key findings from the June 30, 2014 dataset include:

  • As we have seen in every data release since our first in February 2011, broadband speeds continue to increase. The rate at which we are seeing speeds increase, however, is slower at every national speed threshold that we track.

  • At lower speeds, Internet access is widely available across both rural and urban areas. The latest data shows that 99 percent of the country has access to advertised broadband speeds at 10 megabits per second (Mbps) through either wired or wireless services, and 93 percent have access to this speed through wired service alone.

  • Nearly 85 percent of the country has access to wired broadband at a speed of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, which is the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new benchmark level [6] for broadband speeds. Cable provides 82.69 percent of the U.S. population with speeds of 25 Mbps or more, while fiber to the premises serves about one in four Americans (24.20 percent) at that speed.

  • However, there is still a big gap between urban and rural areas when it comes to access to broadband at 25 Mbps. The latest data finds that only 55 percent of those in rural communities, and 32 percent of tribal lands have access to broadband at 25 mbps compared with 94 percent of urban areas.

NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative (SBI), which funded grants to collect the data used in the Broadband Map, is coming to a close. The data we are posting today is the last set of data that states will collect under this program. NTIA is transitioning the broadband map to our long-standing partner, the FCC, which will collect data as part of its 477 data collection program.

Wireless hotspots extend broadband on Fond du Lac reservation

fdlFond du Lac is a Blandin Broadband Community. They have been working to expand broadband access on the reservation. They recently completed a big wireless upgrade creating 13 wireless hot spots for community use. The wireless service has 30 megabit bandwidth for those who are in range of the antennas.  (The speed was verified on an iPhone with a speed test website. )

 

People with access have been very happy. And the overall range was actually larger than predicted.  At the beginning of the project it was estimated that each antenna would have a range of a quarter- mile radius of the antenna.  After the installation several of the antenna’s had a range of a half-mile radius.  Unfortunately there are folks who live just outside that range and of course they now want access too. But overall the reaction has been very positive for a fairly small project.

Bemidji State to build teleconference system with regional tribal colleges

It’s good news all around from Bemidji State

A Bemidji State University-led consortium of higher education institutions has won a $500,000 grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture to expand distance learning and telemedicine opportunities for rural northern Minnesota residents.

The grant will allow schools in the BSU-led Aazhoogan (Bridge) Consortium, which includes Northwest Technical College, Leech Lake Tribal College, Red Lake Nation College and White Earth Tribal and Community College, to build a network of high-definition video connections linking the five institutions. The Native colleges currently have no existing or functioning interactive distance learning equipment. The network will give students on those campuses access to industry-driven certification training, bachelor’s degrees and specialized associate’s degrees not available at their home colleges.