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Tribal Broadband

Wireless Broadband Likely to be a Key Component in Getting Broadband to Tribal Country



Photo of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the National Tribal Broadband Summit by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, September 24, 2019 – Better broadband and 5G development is essential to the livelihood of tribal communities, according to representatives from government and telecom at the National Tribal Broadband Summit on Tuesday.

Many tribal members have no clear idea of who owns the available spectrum and how to access it, said Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., in the opening remarks. People living on tribal lands primarily use their cellular devices to access the internet.

Going forward, she said, better broadband mapping is only the baseline of determining what tribal communities need to improve their access.

Also in attendance was U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Few students in tribal communities have broadband access, she said, and that only encompasses the public education system.

Establishing a broadband connection is only a means to an end, DeVos said. The untapped potential of American internet is critical for improving education.

The ongoing development of 5G service was an important discussion during the summit, as mass deployment could benefit both tribal and rural communities.

A decade ago, nobody could have foreseen the benefits that fourth-generation wireless networks, including LTE, would bring to productivity, said former Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell.

5G wireless capabilities are expected to be 100 times faster than the current capacity for high-speed internet, he said. The antennas for 5G towers are expected to be built much closer together.

The greatest percentage of Americans who lack access to fixed terrestrial broadband are those residing in tribal and rural areas, said Steve Sharkey, vice president of Government Affairs at T-Mobile.

Coverage information that can be verified by customers is crucial, he said. That is why T-Mobile is committed to instating nationwide drive tests in order to foster better connectivity.

Sharkey outlined several steps that need to be taken for 5G to become mainstream in the next few years. First, 5G must be integrated into 4G interworking, followed by standalone deployments in several cities. After trial deployments, densification and redeployment of spectrum is required before 5G enters the marketplace.

McDowell claimed that part of the purpose of the Sprint-T-Mobile merger was to use broadband’s untapped market to connect rural Americans with 600 MHz spectrum.

The main goal for furthering 5G development is to create a more cohesive process with our federal and industry partners, said Billy Dove, advisor to the office of the assistant secretary of land and minerals management at the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Interior Department has historically played a leading role in matters between the U.S. and American Indians.

Speaking at the tribal summit on Monday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai highlighted some of the successes that some tribes were having in closing the digital divide. For example, he referenced Trace Fiber, a Tribally-owned subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation, which is currently building out a 500-mile fiber ring.

He also highlight how Red Spectrum Communications is bringing broadband to Tribal members using fiber and fixed wireless technologies at the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho.

Pai also highlighted the FCC’s action to allow rural Indian tribes an exclusive window to obtain Educational Broadband Spectrum to serve rural Tribal lands.

“That’s right,” Paid said, “Before any commercial auction of this spectrum, Tribes can obtain this spectrum for free.  his is the first time in the FCC’s history that we have ever given Tribal entities what we call a ‘priority window’ to obtain spectrum for wireless broadband. I’m proud that it is happening under my watch, and I hope that Tribes will take advantage of it.”

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Tribal Broadband

GAO Wants NTIA Feedback to Tribes Receiving Smaller Broadband Grants

Feedback could help Tribes improve future funding applications and expand broadband infrastructure.



Photo of Andrew Van Ah, director for physical infrastructure at the Government Accountability Office

WASHINGTON, August 25, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration should offer feedback to Native American tribes who receive less grant money than they apply for, according to a government watchdog report.

The November 2021 Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (passed by Congress in December 2020) provided $3 billion to fund tribal broadband infrastructure through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

Tribal broadband access lags behind the rest of the country. Program funds are used to subsidize monthly internet costs, conduct studies and plan for future projects, and to upgrade and expand infrastructure.

After receiving more than $5 billion in grant requests, the NTIA disbursed almost $2 billion to over 190 tribes in the first round of Tribal broadband funding, which ended in July. Some tribes did not receive the full amount they applied for, but instead were given a small fraction in what the agency calls “equitable distribution grants.”

In a report by the watchdog’s infrastructure director, Andrew Von Ah, the Government Accountability Office says these tribes were never told why they received significantly less funds than they applied for.

The availability of second round of Tribal funding, announced in July, is expected to allocate nearly $1 billion. Applications are open until January 2024.

The grant application process is lengthy and is a strain on tribal resources. This is especially true for smaller tribes, who “might have a part-time IT person if they’re lucky… They don’t have technical resources,” said Lisa Hanlon, CEO of the telecom company Teltech Group and Cherokee Nation citizen, at a conference earlier this year.

With a second of funding also announced in July, constructive feedback “could help these applicants improve their applications and increase confidence in the impartiality of the program’s award process,” the GAO wrote.

Of the 191 first-round grants, 30 percent were equitable distribution grants. Yet these grants accounted for just 2 percent of the total funding awarded, the report said.

The NTIA told GAO that it does not intend to provide feedback to equitable distribution grant recipients because, as they received some funding, they are not technically unsuccessful under the law.

The agency is also understaffed, it wrote in a response to the report, and would better be able to serve equitable distribution grant recipients by assisting them with the smaller projects they are able to fund.

“This effort would effectively provide the same benefit as receiving constructive feedback,” the NTIA wrote.

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Tribal Broadband

Tribal Nations Face Challenges in Accessing and Maximizing Funding: Connected America Conference

The lengthy grant application process can be a barrier for Tribes with limited resources.



Photo of panelists at Connected America 2023 courtesy of the Teltech Group

DALLAS, March 31, 2023 —Tribal lands remain among the areas in the United States that most lack broadband access, but an influx of federal funding could help to close the divide if Tribes are able to build successful partnerships and navigate a challenging grant application process, according to speakers at Connected America on Wednesday.

“We’ve been promised for decades by the biggest carriers in the world that they’re going to bring good connectivity to southeastern rural Oklahoma, and they haven’t,” said Rob Griffin, Tribal broadband coordinator for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “They’ve failed, so we’ve worked with regional operating carriers, we’ve worked to build our own fiber networks, and we’re working to gain access to applications and grants over the next couple of years to work with other ISPs and other regional operating carriers.”

Much of this development is being bolstered by federal funding. On March 23, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced two new grants through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, bringing its total to more than $1.75 billion awarded to 135 Tribal entities.

Several Tribal entities are also hoping for funding through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, although the map being used to allocate BEAD funds has been criticized for inaccurately representing Tribal areas.

Although the federal grants present a significant opportunity, Griffin noted that the lengthy application process can be a barrier, particularly for Tribes with limited resources.

Smaller Tribes “might have a part-time IT person if they’re lucky… They don’t have technical resources,” agreed Lisa Hanlon, CEO of the Teltech Group and Cherokee Nation citizen.

Another layer of complexity comes from the number of different federal agencies offering grant funding, each with their own specific requirements and nuances, said Paul Narro, director of public policy for local internet service provider TekWav.

As the grant programs continue, Hanlon advocated for Tribal entities to work with local providers to maximize federal funding, benefiting both parties. In order for such partnerships to be successful, she said, providers must understand the structure of the specific Tribal nation they are working with and then to listen to what the Tribal leaders actually want.

Griffin advised providers to take a long-term approach to working with Tribal nations.

“We’re thinking in terms of how to build things for the next 100 years,” Griffin said. “And when you think like that, your economies of scales are different and your planning stages are different. So if you’re in the process of working with a Tribal nation, just gear your thinking around, ‘How can I help this Tribe and really build a partnership over the next 20, 40, 60 and 100 years?’”

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Tribal Ready Wants Better Broadband Data to Benefit Indian Country

Tribal leaders and citizens must gather data ‘on a scale large enough to ensure that Tribal nations receive’ funding.



Photo of Joe Valandra

WASHINGTON, February 23, 2023 – Tribal Ready, a Native American-owned company, on Tuesday announced its launch – together with a new effort to encourage Indian county to be accurately mapped for broadband access and deployment through a “Virtual Tribal Broadband Office.”

“It is incumbent on Tribal leaders, citizens and allies to gather data on a scale large enough to ensure that Tribal nations receive the billions of dollars that are available and necessary to complete broadband expansion projects,” said Joe Valandra, CEO of the new entity.

Hear Joe Valandra of Tribal Ready during Broadband Breakfast Live Online on March 8, 2023: A Status Update on Tribal Broadband

Valandra, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, said that Tribal entities should receive at least $5 billion of the $42.5 billion of federal funds available under the bipartisan infrastructure law’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.

The $5 billion number, he said in an interview, is “a very rough calculation that I did based upon the priority being unserved” individuals, and based open the gaping lack of available broadband in Indian County.

Valandra has more than 25 years of experience in executive-level leadership roles in the public, private, government, and non-profit sectors, including an extensive background in Tribal economic development.

Virtual broadband office aims to speak for Tribes

Valandra was highly critical of the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband serviceable location fabric, which he said dramatically undercounted locations and availability for broadband in rural and Tribal areas.

“If the FCC’s fabric were the only tool that were used to allocate these funds, Indian country would be left out,” he said. He cited the broadband map’s representation that the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota was served, which he said wasn’t accurate.

In the view of Tribal Ready, the solution is for Tribal Nations to sign up for the Virtual Tribal Broadband Office at The new entity works in close partnership with, he said, which gives Tribal Ready access to data and other broadband tools.

Just as every state and territory has a state-wide broadband office, Tribes need to be represented through a voice in Washington focused on their needs, said Valandra.

“We hope to become or to acquire a number of ISPs so that we can partner with Tribes to give them the type of knowledge and expertise and regulatory framework to really run those networks and to preserve ownership and control for Tribes,” he said.

Others on the team emphasize the crucial role of broadband data, and other broadband resources, to ensuring maximum funds for Indian country.

“High-speed broadband is a resource – a means to an end,” said Scott Dinsmore, vice president of external affairs at Tribal Ready. “It takes resources to achieve sustainable high-speed networks and the world-class access to economic, education, healthcare and other benefits that come with it.”

Tribal Ready said that it believes the best way to achieve this is to create data and guidelines that help states design fair and inclusive challenge processes. Tribal Ready also emphasized ensuring that Tribal data sovereignty is secure and protected.

Before launching Tribal Ready, Valandra worked in the Indian gaming industry for more than the decade of the 1990s, before coming to Washington. In 2005, he became chief of staff for the National Indian Gaming Commission, a position he occupied until 2007. He subsequently worked extensively in the field of in the Tribal communications.

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