WASHINGTON, December 16, 2009 – A number of groups representing minority interests are advocating that special rules be created by the government for Native Americans applying for broadband stimulus grants.
The awards are being decided by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities, which were charged by Congress in January to distribute $7.2 billion of federal funding to expand broadband penetration across the country.
“[W]e recommend that NTIA and RUS consider creating special rules and allocating increased funding for tribal areas to ensure these communities are included in the digital economy,” according to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, Asian American Justice Center, League of United Latin American Citizens, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, National Urban League and One Economy Corp.
In public comments on the broadband grant application process, the minority groups “recommend that additional funding be allocated to promote capacity building efforts among local tribal nations.” This funding would help separate tribal areas create their own plans to maximize broadband funds, according to the document filed to the NTIA.
According to a study released last month by the Native Public Media and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, the Native American population is one of the most disconnected groups in the country.
“Native Americans are among the last citizens to gain access to the Internet, with access to broadband often unavailable or overly expensive in Native communities,” according to the research. The paper suggested the Federal Communications Commission create a tribal broadband plan within the national broadband plan that it is currently drafting. The Government Accountability Office wrote in 2006 that the penetration rate for broadband access in the Native American communities was less than 10 percent.