Tribal Digital Divide Act Would Increase Broadband Access

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Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, along with Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) recently introduced the Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020. 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 FCC, less than half of households on tribal lands have access to fixed broadband service, a nearly 27-point gap compared to non-tribal rural areas.

 The gap widens when compared to a country-wide average. In 2018, the agency estimated that 35 percent of Americans living on tribal lands lacked access to broadband services, compared to eight percent of all Americans.  

Udall called the situation “unacceptable.” He said: “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.”

  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 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;
  • Set aside FCC and USDA funds for the benefit of broadband deployment on tribal lands; and
  • Establish the Tribal Broadband Right-of-Way Pilot Program.

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