Reps. Mullin and Luján introduce Tribal Connect Act in House to Promote Broadband Access in Tribal Communities
Last week, U.S. Representatives Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced the Tribal Connect Act (H.R. 5661), a bipartisan bill to promote broadband access in tribal communities. The bill was introduced last year in the Senate by U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Dean Heller (R-NV).
In statements announcing the legislation, Rep. Luján and Sen. Heinrich both heralded the bill as a step forward for business efforts in Indian country.
“In today’s 21st century economy, internet access is a necessity for entrepreneurs who want to start a business, students with homework assignments, and families who want to stay connected,” said Luján. “Unfortunately, too many communities still lack access to high-speed broadband. The Tribal Connect Act will help us bridge this digital divide in Indian Country by expanding tribal access to the E-Rate program. This will connect more schools, libraries, and communities while strengthening New Mexico’s economy.”
“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. With this bicameral, bipartisan support for the Tribal Connect Act, the momentum to close the digital divide in Indian Country continues to grow,” said Senator Heinrich. “The Tribal Connect Act is an investment in broadband infrastructure and high-speed internet access in Indian Country so all of our students and children can compete on an even playing field and learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Connecting more tribes to the E-rate program will strengthen broadband across rural New Mexico and improve education, boost the economy, and increase public safety and civic engagement.”
The legislation amends current E-Rate eligibility requirements to allow more tribal libraries to apply for the program. E-Rate is the Federal Communications Commission’s schools and libraries universal service support program, and provides discounts to help public schools and libraries obtain high-speed internet access and telecommunications services at affordable rates. The legislation also would provide $100 million over five years to establish a Tribal E-Rate program, which would allow Tribes without libraries to designate an “anchor institution” to apply for funding to provide internet access to students, teachers, and the community.
In many rural Tribal areas, geographic isolation makes traditional commerce difficult, which is why many Tribes have turned to the Internet to generate economic development opportunities.