Udall, Cantwell, Heinrich Introduce Bill to Increase Tribal Broadband Access
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, along with U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020 to accelerate the deployment of broadband services to Native communities and bridge the digital divide facing Native communities. The bill would expedite the deployment of affordable broadband service on Tribal lands by coordinating and improving the effectiveness of federal resources.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), less than half of households on Tribal lands have access to fixed broadband service. This represents a nearly 27-point gap compared to non-Tribal rural areas. This gap only widens when compared to the country-wide average. In 2018, the FCC estimated that 35 percent of Americans living on Tribal lands lacked access to broadband services, compared to eight percent of all Americans.
“Reliable Internet access is fundamental to economic success in the twenty-first century,” Udall said. “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. This is fundamental to the effort to ensure that the federal government is upholding its trust and treaty responsibility to Native communities.”
“In our 21st century economy, a reliable internet connection is a must. 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. I am proud to be introducing a plan today to start addressing this shortfall immediately,” said Cantwell.
“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.”
The Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020 will:
- Establish the Tribal Broadband Interagency Working Group to improve coordination across federal broadband programs and reduce deployment barriers;
- Require that technical assistance be provided to interested, 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;
- Establish a Tribal Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee;
- Sets aside FCC and USDA funds for the benefit of broadband deployment on Tribal lands; and
- Establish the Tribal Broadband Right-of-Way Pilot Program.
The full text of the legislation can be found HERE.
Last September, Udall convened an oversight hearing on Tribal access to broadband, where he challenged the FCC on its finding that advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans – including those living on Tribal lands – in a “reasonable and timely fashion.”
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