Interior holds national tribal broadband summit

BY STAFF REPORTS
09/26/2019 04:00 PM
WASHINGTON – As part of the federal government’s effort to facilitate broadband development in rural America and Indian Country, the U.S. Department of the Interior in collaboration with the Department of Education and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, held a two-day National Tribal Broadband Summit on Sept. 23-24 in Washington, D.C.

During the summit, tribal leaders; representatives of tribal organizations; representatives of schools and school districts serving under-connected Native students; tribal libraries; museums and cultural centers; private sector; and federal program managers and policymakers participated in 30 panel discussions and heard from more than 80 speakers. These discussions focused on laying a foundation for building capacity among tribal communities to support broadband deployment and adoption and identify opportunities for private sector investment in broadband.

“Managing more than 20 percent of the nation’s lands, the Department of the Interior plays a major role in the permitting and deployment of broadband to the rural and tribal communities,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said.

Interior Deputy Secretary Kate MacGregor said as high-speed connectivity reaches rural communities, including American Indians and Alaska Natives, it empowers individuals to access the global marketplace, use online educational tools and prepare the next generation for an increasingly tech-focused job market.

Currently, broadband access in other rural parts of the country outpaces development on rural tribal lands. A large proportion of tribal areas are located on rough terrain in rural locations.

Like most rural locations, populations are sparser than in urban areas. These factors drive up the costs for businesses to serve tribal areas, creating a barrier to broadband deployment on tribal lands. Rural broadband deployment is achievable as 73.3% of rural non-tribal locations have at least one broadband provider. However, only 46.6% of rural tribal locations have coverage.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Katuk MacLean Sweeney said for too long the status quo has “hamstrung” Native communities from accessing global markets, engaging in e-commerce or providing quality health care and education to American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“Over the past two days Native American leadership, federal officials, industry leaders and private sector partners have engaged in discussions that I’m confident will materialize into expanded broadband capacity and investment in American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” Sweeney said.

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