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Tribal Broadband

NTIA Approves $1.2M in Grants for Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program

The NTIA awarded four grants worth $1.2 million.



Photo from Native News Online by Kyle Edwards

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2022 — The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced late last month that it has awarded four grants worth nearly $1.2 million as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

The grants, which are being awarded across California, Washington, and Wisconsin, will “fund broadband infrastructure deployment projects to expand internet access to the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians in California, Forest County Potawatomi Community in Wisconsin, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in Washington State, and the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin,” according to the press release.

Alan Davidson, the assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said that the “NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is playing a crucial role in meeting the mission and closing the digital divide by expanding internet access to tribal communities and connecting them to schools, health care services, business opportunities and more.”

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which was funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, makes $980 million available for grants to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities for broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.

Davidson will be a guest speaker at Broadband Breakfast for Lunch on April 13, in which he will speak about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $65 billion for broadband infrastructure.

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Tribal Broadband

Tribal Ready COO Adam Geisler Addresses Importance of Data Sovereignty to Tribes

The federal government has failed to uphold its trust responsibility to provide health, safety and welfare to Native American tribes.



Photo of Tribal Ready President and COO Adam Geisler speaking in January 2022

WASHINGTON, November 20, 2023 – A tribal broadband leader said Friday the federal government has failed to uphold its trust responsibility to provide health, safety and welfare to Native American tribes, speaking at an event in the broadband community on Friday.

The leader, Adam Geisler, president and chief operating officer of Tribal Ready, said that the digital divide persisted on tribal lands partly because federal agencies and internet providers haven’t met funding and deployment obligations.

In the “Ask Me Anything” event, Geisler, a member of the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians, discussed his journey from being tribal leader to a division chief for tribal broadband connectivity at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and eventually to his role at Tribal Ready.

Geisler emphasized the importance of understanding tribal sovereignty, which he described as the ability of tribes to govern their people, lands, and processes. He highlighted the unique political standing of tribes in the United States and their relationship with the federal government.

One critical aspect of this is the importance of tribal data sovereignty, which involves control over the collection, access, and use of data related to tribes.

In addition to the federal government’s failure to uphold its trust responsibilities, industry broadband has had shortcomings despite being subsidized. Federal funding alone will not close the digital divide without policy and statute revisions for flexibility and practical application, he said.

Geisler also touched on the successful allocation of the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) band of spectrum to tribes, viewing it as a step in the right direction but insufficient in fully addressing connectivity needs.

He advocated for a mixed-technology approach to broadband solutions, recognizing that different technologies like fiber, wireless, and satellite can complement each other to provide comprehensive coverage.

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Broadband's Impact

Tribal Providers Say They Rely on ACP to Connect Communities

The fund is set to run dry in 2024.



Screenshot of the webinar Monday.

WASHINGTON, October 30, 2023 – The Affordable Connectivity Program is essential for keeping people connected on Tribal lands, Tribal broadband providers said on Monday,

Started in 2021 with $14 billion set aside by the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the ACP provides over 21 million Americans with a monthly internet subsidy – $30 for low-income families and $75 residents of Tribal lands. The program is set to run out of money in 2024.

That would leave many Tribal residents faced with a voice between their internet bill and other essentials like food and electricity, said Linnea Jackson, the general manager of the Hoopa Valley Public Utilities District.

Her customers “need the internet for everyday life, but they also rely on that benefit” to make their monthly payment, she said at a webinar on Tribal broadband.

Allyson Mitchell, general manager of Tribal broadband provider Mohawk Networks, said the 500 ACP recipients on her networks are similarly reliant on the money to stay connected.

The Biden administration asked Congress last week to shore up the ACP with an extra $6 billion in its next spending package. That, White House estimates, would be enough to continue the program through December 2024.

A bipartisan chorus of lawmakers have been making similar pleas in recent months. Proponents of the program point to its roles in closing the digital divide – allowing low-income Americans to use the broadband infrastructure built with federal funding programs. In September, broadband companies pushed Congress to safeguard the ACP from gridlock on Capitol Hill by rolling it into an annual fund run by the FCC.

With a new speaker elected in the House, Congress has until November 17 to fund the government before the current stopgap measure runs out.

Jackson is hopeful that will include money for the ACP, she said, but she and her colleagues are bracing to make tough decisions if the fund dries up next year.

“We can’t just be providing service at no cost,” Jackson said. “We might have to look at shutting off those people, which is the opposite of what we want to do. We’re trying to serve an underserved community.”

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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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