EVENTS July 28-29: Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program Webinars

From BroadbandUSA,,,

Don’t Miss Our Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program Webinars on July 28 and July 29!

This week, join the NTIA team to learn more about our Connecting Minority Communities (CMC) Pilot Program, a $268 million grant program to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) for the purchase of broadband internet access service and eligible equipment or to hire and train information technology personnel.

What will I learn in the webinars?

Join our informative webinars on July 28 and July 29 to learn more about CMC Pilot Program, meet the CMC project team, receive important information and resources related to the upcoming grant application, hear about our CMC Anchor Community Eligibility Dashboard update, and view a demo of our new Indicators of Broadband Need map. The material will be repeated on both days and at the conclusion of the webinar, NTIA staff will host a Q&A session for attendees.

How do I register?
*Reg for July 28
*Reg for July 29

 

Turtle Island Communications Inc. company brings broadband Indian Country

The Circle posts an article highlighting Turtle Island Communications Inc. and its founders, Madonna Peltier Yawakie and her husband Melvin (Mel) Yawakie.  Madonna was on the Blandin Broadband Strategy Broadband for many years. She and Mel attended several Fall broadband conferences. I have always been impressed and amazed at their depth of knowledge in building broadband. I have worked most with Madonna, who seems to understand every financial opportunity and every policy implication for tribal communities. I have seen her lift the flag again and again to make sure that tribal areas are seen, mapped and subsequently wired.

I’m pleased to share an abridged version of the article, starting with the basics…

For Madonna Peltier Yawakie and her husband Melvin (Mel) Yawakie, it is practically a meaningless question. But it does strengthen public awareness of the important work their Turtle Island Communications Inc. company does in Indian Country.

The background…

She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. He is Pueblo Zuni from the Southwest. Both grew up in families where calling a relative a few miles away could be an expensive long distance telephone call.

Their roles and start in broadband…

“You don’t just wake up one day and say, “Let’s start a business,” Madonna said. “We’ve seen the need for most of our lives.”

Both had extensive telecommunications backgrounds and were painfully aware of disparities between the communities their prior employers served with modern communications and what was available in their home communities. They both had proper educational backgrounds to step in and serve Native American tribes.

Madonna said she thought she would want to work on economic development for tribes when she went off to college. Following that objective, she received a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a Master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning from North Dakota State University (NDSU).

She serves as president of the family-owned company which allows her to continue her original goal although from a highly skilled, technical perspective.

Mel is vice president of the company and heads engineering, planning, construction and project management. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from NDSU, and an Associate degree in Electronic Technology from what is now Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan.

In that role, he leads in planning, designing and implementing both wireline services and wireless telecommunication systems for the tribally owned broadband, high-speed communications systems.

The Yawakies started TICOM exactly 20 years ago. Their first big project was for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Dakotas.

This became a learning experience in itself, Madonna said.

Biden Administration makes $1 billion in grants available for broadband on tribal lands

The Verge reports

The Biden administration will make $1 billion in grants available to expand broadband access and adoption on tribal lands, Vice President Kamala Harris announced at the White House Thursday. The funds, from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will be made to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities for broadband deployment, to support digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.

Get more info..

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, part of the coronavirus relief package Congress passed in December, will fund programs to help make broadband more affordable for tribal areas to help fund the digital divide, the Commerce Department said.

NTIA will be holding webinars to inform the public about the grants. The next Tribal Broadband Connectivity webinars will be held on June 16th and 17th.

BroadbandUSA Announcements – April Webinars – NTIA Grants Webinar Series Home

The NTIA is hosting a series of webinars

Join NTIA for a webinar series starting in April 2021 focused on the three new broadband grant programs authorized and funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021: the Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Program. These webinars are designed to help prospective applicants understand the grant programs and to assist applicants to prepare high quality grant applications.

Please visit the BroadbandUSA website for more information, registration, and updates.

NTIA Grans Webinar Series Schedule

April:

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants Program (Tribal)

Register here for April 21st Webinar

Register here for April 22nd Webinar

Tribal

Register Here for May 19th Webinar

Register Here for May 20th Webinar

Recent report on history and status of broadband in tribal areas (including Fond du Lac in MN)

The Institute for Local Self Reliance recently released a report by H. Trostle on the history and status of broadband in tribal areas: Building Indigenous Future Zones: Four Tribal Broadband Case Studies. They look at four networks built in tribal areas including:

  • Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Red Spectrum Communications in Idaho
  • Nez Perce Tribe Department of Technology Services (wireless and fiber) in Idaho
  • Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe’s Aaniin Fiber Services in Minnesota
  • St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Mohawk Network in New York

They found five key lessons:

  1. Improve Access to Capital
  2. Avoid Single-Purpose Funding
  3. Recognize the Preparation Needed to Take Advantage of Opportunities
  4. Tribal Employment Rights Offices Are a Value-Add
  5. Respect Native Nations’ Right to Spectrum

Here’s the portion on Minnesota’s Fond du Lac project, including partnership prjects with the Blandin Foundation…

Aaniin was built through years of careful research and feasibility studies. Jason Hollinday, the Director of Planning at Fond du Lac Planning Division, explained how the Fond du Lac Band approached the problem of getting high-speed Internet service throughout their communities.

In 2006, they started to compare wireless and hardwired network types, such as cable and fiber. The original plan called for ten wireless towers throughout the reservation to deliver Internet service to people’s homes. There were a number of issues with this plan, however, one of which was geography. Northern Minnesota has many hills and forests, and the wireless technology at the time was not going to be able to penetrate to many remote areas. It was, however, fairly inexpensive, and Fond du Lac moved forward with seeking grants for the project. They weren’t funded and Hollinday says they were told that the project was “economically infeasible.”

Undaunted, they changed tactics and considered alternatives, allowing them to be prepared when the market changed drastically in 2010. The price of fiber and equipment for a Fiberto-the-Home network fell enough to make a network feasible on paper. They worked with the Blandin Foundation in Minnesota and pursued grants through the USDA.

Community members, however, needed Internet service faster than the fiber network was likely to be built. The Fond du Lac Band already had an institutional network between government buildings. They added 13 wireless hotspots to several of these buildings in 2013. The hotspots have a range of about ¼ mile, and still serve as a stop-gap measure for community members without reliable Internet service at home.

In 2015, they were finally awarded a USDA Community Connect Grant. Two Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Grants were later approved as well and one Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Indian Community Development Block Grant. In total, it was about $9 million in grants, and the Fond du Lac Band matched half that amount with $4.5 million in cash on hand. They had secured all the funding needed to build out a next-generation network.

Starting out, some of the grants required them to build to areas without Internet service of at least 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. Unserved areas were prioritized. Later grants supported building the network to areas without 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. This enabled the Fond du Lac band to reach the rest of the reservation. The Blandin Foundation had assisted with community outreach about the project. In a series of public meetings, community members talked about what they would like to do with the Internet service. Hollinday described a little bit of doubt from some members, such as “Well we’d never get that here, but if we did have it…,” because the project sometimes seemed too good to be true.

The network went live in Fall 2019. The network, however, continues to expand across the reservation, connecting more people. People are still learning all the capabilities of the Internet service. Since 2014, Fond du Lac has offered a summer camp for teens to create smartphone and iPad apps. Each student creates an app and is given an iPad to take home. The program also supports cultural knowledge. For instance, some of the apps from 2014 went into detail about beading, plants, and the Ojibwe language.15 The possibility of expanding outside of the reservation boundaries has been considered, but the focus right now is on making sure all community members have access to a reliable connection. Using gaming money and possibly further grants to build a fiber network in nearby areas could create a long-term diversified revenue stream for the community.

National Congress of American Indians outlines specific broadband recommendations for Biden Administration

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.

Agency recommendations:

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).

Federal funds going to telehealth tools to help at-risk native elders

WCCO News reports that more than $500,000 from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund will be used to provide equipment and technology to at-risk native elders…

The Minnesota Department of Human Services announced that home health care tools are being sent to Native American elders to help keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, the DHS said blood pressure monitors, pulse oximeters and other technology that supports telehealth and behavioral health visits are currently on their way to native elders in communities around Minnesota.

Following a grant contract with the DHS, the Native American Community Clinic in south Minneapolis and the Northwest Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji are distributing the infection prevention tools.

FCC Grants Additional 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window Licenses – including three in MN

The FCC reports

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has granted 22 additional applications for licenses to use the 2.5 GHz band to close the digital divide and to provide broadband and other advanced wireless services to rural Tribal communities. These spectrum licenses, which were granted to Tribal entities across the country through the agency’s first-of-its-kind Rural Tribal Priority Window, provide for exclusive use of up to 117.5 megahertz of 2.5 GHz band spectrum that can be used by Tribes to connect their communities.

“We continue to make significant progress in putting this prime mid-band spectrum into the hands of Tribes so they can connect their communities to business, health care, and educational resources online,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Far too many Tribal communities are on the wrong side of the digital divide, and this Rural Tribal Priority Window is making a real difference in helping to bring digital opportunity to these communities. This is one of the initiatives of which I’m most proud during my time at the Commission.”

The Rural Tribal Priority Window was open for applications from February 3 to September 2, 2020. To date, the agency has granted 179 2.5 GHz licenses to help address Tribes’ connectivity needs. FCC staff continues to review and process all applications filed in the priority window. More information on application processing and status may be found at www.fcc.gov/ruraltribalwindowupdates.

Grants awarded in Minnesota:

  • Bois Forte Band of Chippewa MN 0009167226 (Granted File Number)
  • Lower Sioux Indian Community General Council MN 0009157301 (Granted File Number)
  • Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe MN 0009132753 (Granted File Number)

Broadband percentages on MN Tribal reservations

I was going to dive into to Tribal broadband profiles this week but I found out that there may be updates coming very soon. So I just wanted to share a quick look at where folks are connected and where they are not.

I have removed anything related to access off reservation and I’m only looking at access to 100/20 Mbps (100 down and 20 up).

Clearly, each area has its own story. Bois Forte (with 294 households) has no access; while Shakopee (with 116 households) has ubiquitous access. And the numbers are such, especially considering households, that there’s not much comparison to make. But I wanted to keep note, especially as I talk about the MN County Broadband Profiles at the Broadband 2020 conference tomorrow and for when I take the deeper dive once the latest numbers and maps are available.

Name Households (2010 estimate) Percent Broadband (100Mbps/20Mbps) Percent Wireline Broadband (100Mbps/20Mbps)
Bois Forte Reservation 294 0.00 0.00
Fond du Lac Reservation 1530 62.52 62.52
Grand Portage Reservation 257 80.64 80.64
Leech Lake Reservation 3930 77.33 77.33
Lower Sioux Indian Community 134 89.98 68.43
Mille Lacs Reservation 1835 66.38 66.38
Minnesota Chippewa Trust Land 1 100.00 100.00
Prairie Island Indian Community 62 50.15 50.15
Red Lake Reservation 1757 99.82 99.82
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community 116 100.00 100.00
Upper Sioux Community 48 97.92 0.00
White Earth Reservation 3529 78.17 78.17

Call for Presentations: 2020 National Tribal Broadband Summit

I presented at this conference in DC last year. I was a great opportunity to meet passionate people and the innovating ways they deployed and used broadband with tribal communities….

Call for Presentations

 

The Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs invites you to present your latest work in planning, constructing, delivering, and using tribal broadband networks at the 2nd annual National Tribal Broadband Summit. The event will be conducted virtually September 21 – 25, 2020.

We encourage service providers, engineers, researchers, funders, regulators, and other key players from across the country to submit your best projects, programs, or initiatives to be presented at the National Tribal Broadband Summit, which will cover the following topics:

  • Planning & Implementation Identifying needs, setting goals, creating strategies, developing a plan and leveraging data to maximize the short and long-term educational, cultural and economic benefits of connectivity. Identifying sources of Federal, private and other programs and funding sources and leveraging these and community assets to best address strategic goals and community needs. Building and leveraging partnerships with both public and private entities to support connectivity and maximize the positive impacts of broadband access.
  • Technical Solutions, Middle Mile, Connectivity Solutions Exploring the various connectivity options available and identifying possible solutions to bring broadband to your unique community. E.g., white space, new spectrum and how to use it best, middle mile networks.
  • Applications for Social, Cultural, & Economic Well-Being Leveraging technology to improve health care outcomes, enhance economic development, increase community engagement, and expand educational opportunity. Responding to the coronavirus pandemic through emergency broadband networks, developing new and expanded services such as telemedicine and virtual learning programs, protecting community members, and preparing for future shocks. Smart cities, smart agriculture etc.

KEY DATES

Deadline for Abstract Submission               August 14, 2020

Notification of Acceptance                       August 28, 2020

Deadline for Full Presentation Submission    September 8, 2020

 

SELECTION CRITERIA

  • Presenter should have demonstrated history of success:
    • expanding broadband access, inclusion, and adoption,
    • financing broadband infrastructure, or
    • leveraging broadband for social and economic well-being or cultural preservation in American Indian, Alaska Native, and/or Native Hawaiian communities, schools, or libraries.
  • Summit organizers are looking for representation across the telecommunications ecosystem – we encourage submissions from small, medium and large enterprises.
  • Preference may be given to proposals that include content from federally recognized tribes or tribal partners.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

  • Provide a 1-page summary of your presentation proposal to rsvp@bia.gov by 5:00 PM ET on Friday, August 14, 2020.
  • The summary should indicate which main topic you are addressing, describe the presentation content and format (e.g., slide deck, panel discussion, etc.), the name and title of any speakers.
  • Please attach any prepared supporting materials, such as slide decks, brochures, etc., that would accompany the presentation and/or better help Summit organizers assess your proposal.

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.