Biden administration will provide $1 billion in grants to expand broadband access and adoption on tribal lands, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Thursday at the White House. The funds, from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will be provided to eligible Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian entities for broadband deployment, supporting digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth and distance learning.
“For generations, a lack of infrastructure investment in Indian Country has left Tribes further in the digital divide than most parts of the country,” Home Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “As a country, we have a responsibility to build infrastructure that fuels economic development, keeps communities safe and ensures that everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”
According to the Department of Commerce, census figures show that only half of households in tribal areas have a subscription to the Internet at home, and in some areas even the most basic cell phone reception is lacking. More than 20 percent of people living on tribal lands do not have broadband access at home. And during the pandemic, when schools closed, some students from tribal schools had to drive 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 to be even higher, as Federal Communications Commission data on broadband access, which many government agencies rely on, can be notoriously inaccurate.
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, portion of the corona help package Congress passed in December will fund programs to make broadband more affordable for tribal areas to help fund the digital divide, the Commerce Department said.
NTIA holds webinars to inform the public about the subsidies. The next Tribal Broadband Connectivity webinars will be held on June 16-17.