The Biden administration will make $1 billion in grants available to expand broadband access and adoption on tribal lands, Vice President Kamala Harris announced at the White House Thursday. The funds, from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will be made to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities for broadband deployment, to support digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.
“For generations, a lack of infrastructure investment in Indian Country has left Tribes further behind in the digital divide than most areas of the country,” Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “We have a responsibility as a country to build infrastructure that will fuel economic development, keep communities safe, and ensure everyone has opportunities to succeed.”
According to the Commerce Department, census figures show only half of households on tribal lands subscribe to home internet service, and some areas lack even the most basic cellphone reception. More than 20 percent of people living on tribal lands don’t have broadband access at home. And during the pandemic as schools closed, some students at tribal-serving schools had to drive for miles to find a strong enough connection to participate in online classes. However, the number of people without internet access on tribal lands is likely even higher, as data from the Federal Communications Commission on broadband access, which many government agencies rely on, can be notoriously inaccurate.
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, part of the coronavirus relief package Congress passed in December, will fund programs to help make broadband more affordable for tribal areas to help fund the digital divide, the Commerce Department said.
NTIA will be holding webinars to inform the public about the grants. The next Tribal Broadband Connectivity webinars will be held on June 16th and 17th.