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Tribal Broadband

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

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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.”

Expert Opinion

Johnny Kampis: Federal Bureaucracy an Impediment to Broadband on Tribal Lands

18% of people living on Tribal lands lack broadband access, compared to 4% of residents in non-tribal areas.

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The author of this expert Opinion is Johnny Kampis, director of telecom policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance

A new study from the Phoenix Center finds that as the federal government pours tens of billions of dollars into shrinking the digital divide in tribal areas, much of that gap has already been eliminated.

The report, and a second from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, are more indications that regulations and economic factors that include income levels continue to hamper efforts to get broadband to all Americans.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 allocated $45 billion toward tribal lands. This was done as part of a massive effort by the federal government to extend broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas of the United States.

George Ford, chief economist at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, wrote in the recent policy bulletin that while there is still plenty of work needed to be done in terms of connectivity, efforts in recent years have largely eliminated the broadband gap between tribal and non-tribal areas.

Ford examined broadband deployment around the U.S. between 2014 and 2020 using Form 477 data from the Federal Communications Commission, comparing tribal and non-tribal census tracts.

Ford points out in the bulletin that the FCC has observed several challenges for broadband deployment in tribal areas, including rugged terrain, complex permitting processes, jurisdictional issues, a higher ratio of residences to business customers, higher poverty rates, and cultural and language barriers.

Ford controlled for some of these differences in his study comparing tribal and non-tribal areas. He reports in the bulletin that the statistics suggest nearly equal treatment in high-speed internet development.

Encouraging results about availability of broadband in Tribal areas

“These results are encouraging, suggesting that broadband availability in Tribal areas is becoming closer or equal to non-Tribal areas over time, and that any broadband gap is largely the result of economic characteristics and not the disparate treatment of Tribal areas,” Ford wrote.

But he also notes that unconditioned differences show a 10-percentage point spread in availability in tribal areas, which indicates how much poverty, low population density, and red tape is harming the efforts to close the digital divide there.

“These results do not imply that broadband is ubiquitous in either Tribal or non-Tribal areas; instead, these results simply demonstrate that the difference in availability between Tribal and non-Tribal areas is shrinking and that this difference is mostly explained by a few demographic characteristics,” Ford wrote.

In a recent report, the GAO suggests that part of the problem lies with the federal bureaucracy – that “tribes have struggled to identify which federal program meets their needs and have had difficulty navigating complex application processes.”

GAO states that 18 percent of people living on tribal lands lack broadband access, compared to 4 percent of residents in non-tribal areas.

The GAO recommended that the Executive Office of the President specifically address tribal needs within a national broadband strategy and that the Department of Commerce create a framework within the American Broadband Initiative for addressing tribal issues.

“The Executive Office of the President did not agree or disagree with our recommendation but highlighted the importance of tribal engagement in developing a strategy,” the report notes.

That goes together with the GAO’s dig at the overall lack of a national broadband strategy by the Biden Administration in a June report. As the Taxpayers Protection Alliance reported, the federal auditor noted that 15 federal agencies administer more than 100 different broadband funding programs, and that despite a taxpayer investment of $44 billion from 2015 through 2020, “millions of Americans still lack broadband, and communities with limited resources may be most affected by fragmentation.”

President Biden has set a goal for universal broadband access in the U.S. by 2030. These recent reports show that the federal bureaucracy under his watch needs to do a better job of getting out of its own way.

Johnny Kampis is the director of telecom policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Spectrum

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chair Takes FCC to Task for Communication With Tribes

‘You need to get a little better about talking to and listening to native communities,” the chairman told the FCC.

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Screenshot of Sen. Brian Schatz, D-HI, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

WASHINGTON, September 23, 2022 –Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Brian Schatz on Wednesday urged the Federal Communications Commission to consult more regularly with Tribal leaders on the spectrum-licensing processes.

“Some of [the problems voiced native panelists at the roundtable] could simply be avoided by better, more aggressive, more continuous, more humble consultation, and you’re going to save yourselves a ton of headache,” said Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat. “I’m wondering if you need to get a little better about talking to and listening to native communities at every step in the process.”

“Chairman, I think you put that extremely well,” responded Umair Javed, chief council for the office of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Tyler Iokepa Gomes, deputy to the chairman of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, told the committee of difficulties faced by native Hawaiians in obtaining spectrum licenses. Since the DHHL is a state entity, not a Tribal government, Gomes said, it was forced to compete against two local, native communities in a waiver process. Gomes said that his agency’s competition with the other waiver applicants caused considerable friction in Hawaii’s native community at large.

Low digital literacy is also a problem for some native communities attempted to secure spectrum licenses. “When it comes to technology, a lot of people seem to be scared of it,” said Keith Modglin, director of information technology for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, a federally-recognized Indian Tribe.

Modglin argued that education initiatives to raise digital literacy and explain the intra- and intercommunity benefits of spectrum would benefit his band greatly.

The land of the Mille Lacs Band is a “checkerboard,” meaning that Tribal lands are interspersed with non-tribal lands, said Melanie Benjamin, the tribe’s chief executive officer. According to Benjamin, navigating government’s failure to account for this status caused substantial delays for her tribe.

In addition to improving communication, Schatz called on the FCC to take affirmative actions to ease regulatory burdens on small tribes. “There are some really under resourced native communities, and it shouldn’t be a labyrinth to figure out what they’re eligible for,” he said. “Try to figure out some one-stop shop, some simple way to access the resources that they are eligible for under current law.”

Javed acknowledged a need for the FCC improve its communication with native communities, but he said the FCC is making strides in other areas. “While spectrum is one piece of that puzzle, I think we are making a lot of progress in some of our programs like the Affordable Connectivity Program, updates to the E-Rate program, some of our mapping efforts as well,” he said.

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Tribal Broadband

Biden Administration Awards More Funding for Tribal Broadband, With $262 Million for 9 Projects

The Commerce Department has now made a total of 63 awards totaling more than $601 million in Tribal funding.

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Photo of then-second grader Winona Begaye uploading homework from the backseat of her family’s car on the Navajo reservation from 2020 by Megan Marples for Cronkite News

WASHINGTON, August 25, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the U.S. Commerce Department announced $262 million  in funds awarded to nine Tribes in seven states.

Two of the awards (for $143 million) were made on Thursday, and seven of the awards (for $118.8 million) were made on Tuesday. The full amounts and awardees are listed at the bottom.

The awards will provide funds for high-speed interne­t infrastructure deployment projects through the Internet for All Initiative’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

This Tribal broadband program is funded by the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in November 2021. Both funding vehicles make money available for grants to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities for high-speed internet deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.

During a press call announcing the historic investments, Vice President Kamala Harris said, “Our administration’s vision is to connect all Native communities with the Internet and with the opportunity that comes along with access to affordable Internet—the opportunity to live healthier, happier, and more prosperous lives. And we will continue to fight every day to make that vision a reality.” Her full remarks are available here.

“Closing the digital divide in Indian country is a crucial step for protecting local customs and traditions while invigorating the opportunities for global engagement and growth,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

NTIA has now made a total of 63 awards totaling more than $601 million in Tribal funding. These awards are part of the Biden Administration’s commitment to nation-to-nation engagement and an effort to connect everyone in America, including American Indians and Natives, with affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Alan Davidson recently announced that NTIA has added $1 billion of that funding to the existing funding opportunity, meaning the Administration can fund more of the projects that already submitted applications. An additional Notice of Funding Opportunity for the remaining funds will be announced later in 2022, and NTIA will hold consultations with Tribal leaders in September to solicit their input.

Thursday and Tuesday announcements

On Thursday, the two awardees were or the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council and Yurok Telecommunications Corp. in California and the Spokane Tribe of Indians in Washington. These awards will connect more than 2,800 homes across these three Tribes affording more families access to the critical connectivity necessary for learning, work, and telehealth.

The Tuesday announcement was made from the Oglala Sioux Tribe reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The grants are being awarded to the Shoshone Bannock Tribes (Idaho), the Chippewa Cree Tribe (Montana), Nebraska Indian Community College (Nebraska), Omaha Tribe of Nebraska (Nebraska), Oglala Sioux Tribe (South Dakota), Rosebud Sioux Tribe (South Dakota), and Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Wisconsin).

“The Oglala Sioux Tribe is excited to be receiving an NTIA Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program Award,” said Kevin Killer, President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “Our Tribe is in desperate need of affordable broadband on our vast, remote Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We have lagged behind the rest of America for too long, and the COVID-19 public health emergency made the importance of broadband to our daily lives abundantly clear. The NTIA’s TBCP award will provide the necessary resources and infrastructure for our Tribal Citizens to engage in remote education, telemedicine, remote work, and other activities.”

FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Brings High-Speed, Affordable Internet to Tribal Communities – The White House 

For more information on the Biden-Harris Administration’s high-speed internet programs as well as quotes from the awardees, please visit InternetforAll.gov.

Thursday awards:

Applicant Location Type of Project Funding Amount Brief Description
Yurok Telecommunications Corp. CA Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $61,661,365.50 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install middle fiber and last mile wireless connecting 921 unserved Native American households on the Yurok Reservation and Yurok Ancestral Lands with fixed wireless to the home with 100 Mbps/25 Mbps service.
Hoopa Valley Tribal Council CA Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $65,140,407.72 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install fiber and wireless to directly connect 1,045 unserved Native American households, 64 Tribal businesses, and 19 community anchor institutions with fiber-to-the-home with 25 Gbps/3 Gbps service, construct a Tribal data center, install a tower, and provide workforce development training.
Spokane Tribe of Indians WA Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $16,837,920.31 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install fiber directly connecting 800 unserved Native American households, 10 businesses, and 28 anchor institutions with fiber-to-the-home 100 Mbps/100 Mbps service.

Tuesday awards:

Applicant Location Type of Project Funding Amount Brief Description
Shoshone Bannock Tribes ID Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $22,485,260.71 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install mile and last mile fiber and last mile fixed wireless directly connecting 408 unserved Native American households with fiber-to-the-home 100 Mbps/100 Mbps service.
Chippewa Cree Tribe MT Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $15,300,356.84 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install fiber and fixed wireless infrastructure to directly connect 770 unserved Native American households with fiber-to-the-home with 1 Gbps/ 1Gbps and/or fixed wireless to the home with 100 Mbps/20 Mbps service.
Nebraska Indian Community College NE Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $1,243,000.00 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install fiber directly connecting 1,272 unserved Native American Households with fixed wireless to the home service of at least 25 Mbps/3Mbps.
Omaha Tribe of Nebraska NE Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $3,753,450.75 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install fiber to directly connect 19 unserved community anchor institutions, deploy a wireless network to connect 710 unserved Native American households and 12 Native American businesses with fixed wireless to the home 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service, and construct a data server building to house IT equipment.
Oglala Sioux Tribe SD Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $19,620,766.00 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to construct a last mile broadband network and install fiber directly connecting 1,821 unserved Native American households with fixed wireless to the home service of up to 50 Mbps/10Mbps.
Rosebud Sioux Tribe SD Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $48,352,973.57 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install fiber and LTE network directly connecting 1,526 unserved Native American households with fiber-to-the-home and/or fixed wireless to the home 602 Mbps/102 Mbps.
Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa WI Broadband Infrastructure Deployment $8,047,002.00 The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install fiber to directly connecting 705 unserved Native American households, 18 unserved Native American businesses, and 4 Native American community anchor institutions with fiber-to-the-home 940 Mbps/30Mbps service.
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