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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.

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

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

The NTIA awarded four grants worth $1.2 million.

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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

USDA Anticipates Infrastructure Technical Assistance Tailored Towards Tribal Applicants

At a White House event an agency representative said webinar programs are likely for Indigenous communities.

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Photo of Edyael Casaperalta by the Rural Assembly

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2022 – A representative of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services said Thursday that the agency will likely host webinars aimed specifically towards Tribal applicants for programs of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The comments came during USDA’s participation in a program of the White House to provide information on how entities may pursue funding for broadband infrastructure builds of the bill that was signed in November.

RUS senior policy advisor Edyael Casaperalta fielded questions for the agency at the online event and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s prominent associate administrator Doug Kinkoph was present to speak as well.

The NTIA has now hosted multiple technical assistance webinars for program applicants, like those events USDA says it will host.

The session also emphasized that projects seeking funds from the NTIA will in fact require approval and selection by states to receive grant money, and that there will be constant efforts from the involved government agencies to ensure that those areas most in need receive broadband projects – making sure to include urban areas lacking in internet access.

“Engaging in the digital equity ensures that the skill sets and understanding how to best leverage that connection is, is fulfilled,” said Kinkoph.

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