Senators Introduce Legislation to Increase Tribal Broadband Access
Last week, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020, legislation that would help bring broadband digital access to Native Communities. In a press release announcing the bill’s introduction, the Senators noted that according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), less than half of Tribal households have access to fixed broadband service.
“Reliable Internet access is fundamental to economic success in the twenty-first century,” said Udall, who serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “It is unacceptable that Americans living on Tribal lands, in addition to Tribal governments, face so many barriers to accessing reliable broadband.”
“Our legislation focuses on connecting Tribal communities with broadband funding and eliminating bureaucratic hurdles so that we can bridge this Tribal digital divide,” he added. “This is fundamental to the effort to ensure that the federal government is upholding its trust and treaty responsibility to Native communities.”
Specifically, the legislation would establish a Tribal Broadband Interagency Working Group to improve coordination across federal broadband programs and reduce deployment barriers. It would also require that technical assistance be provided to interested and underserved Native communities to develop a broadband deployment plan, streamline the application process for federal grants to support the deployment of broadband services on Tribal lands, and establish a Tribal Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. Finally, it would Establish the Tribal Broadband Right-of-Way Pilot Program and set aside FCC and USDA funding to deploy broadband on Tribal lands.
“In our 21st century economy, a reliable internet connection is a must,” said Cantwell. “Closing the digital divide in Indian Country is critically important for the future of these communities – less than half of which currently have access to reliable broadband service.”
“Access to high-speed internet is increasingly essential to daily life and brings unprecedented economic opportunities for users, especially for people living in rural areas,” said Heinrich. “Unfortunately, too many Tribal communities in New Mexico lack access to broadband internet, which means less access to educational, health, and career-related resources.”
“Connecting more Tribes will strengthen broadband across rural New Mexico and improve education, boost the economy, and increase public safety and civic engagement,” Heinrich added.
The full text of the legislation is available here.