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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.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

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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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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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