Biden administration allocates billions to improve Internet access for Native Americans

In August alone, the Commerce Department awarded more than $634 million in funding to improve internet infrastructure on tribal lands.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the Department of Commerce, announced that it had awarded more than $105 million in grants to five different tribal entities located in Arizona on August 30.

Throughout August, the Biden-Harris administration awarded more than $634 million to 23 different tribal entities in the United States to upgrade and expand high-speed internet access for Native Americans. Since taking office, President Joe Biden has earmarked billions to help the community address the vast disparities in broadband availability.

So far, the Biden administration has awarded $726 million for broadband under the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, part of President Joe Biden’s $65 billion “Internet for All” initiative. dollars.

“Our administration’s vision is to connect all Indigenous communities to the internet and the opportunity that comes with affordable internet access – the opportunity to live healthier, happier and more prosperous lives,” said the vice -President Kamala Harris during a call with the press on August 11.

The NTIA noted in a statement that its latest grants in Arizona will fund upgrades to 33,000 homes in those communities to improve high-speed Internet access.

Peter Yucupicio, chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, said in a statement that the money would enable them to “carry out critical capital projects that directly support labor, education and health surveillance on the reservation.”

Yucupicio also said the grant would fund telecommunications service for a data center serving a new housing estate, outlying communities, as well as government buildings and businesses in the area.

The funding comes from the $1.9 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act package, which Biden signed into law in 2021. An additional $1 billion in funding is earmarked for the expansion of the top tribal throughput thanks to the package, in addition to at least $1.1 billion previously allocated by departments. of Agriculture and the Treasury for the same purpose.

Historically disadvantaged areas of the United States have so far been unable to obtain high-speed Internet connections as less disadvantaged areas. According to a 2019 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report, only 79.1% of tribal land residents have access to fixed broadband connections, compared to an access rate of 95.6% for the entire country. country. Among tribal households, the FCC found that only 46.5% had broadband connections.

A 2020 report from the New America Foundation suggests the problem may be worse in some tribal lands. The nonprofit organization analyzed the availability of internet services within the Navajo Nation and determined that even fewer had access than FCC data indicates.

The New America Foundation also found that those who received service were forced to deal with “slow, outdated, and expensive service plans.” According to the report, internet plans for the Navajo Nation were “on average $21.70 to $44.01 more expensive than elsewhere in the country, making it unaffordable for many people living on Navajo lands whose income is equal to or below the poverty line.

Many of these issues have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic when several functions related to education, business, healthcare and government have moved online. Without adequate broadband, Indigenous communities have faced greater hardship than people in the rest of the country.

In one notable example, children living within the Navajo Nation in Arizona were forced to rely on a bus to bring them homework packages when schools were closed in 2020 and 2021 because the internet there was too slow and unreliable. reliable so that they can participate in virtual activities. schooling.

Mother-of-two Tracey Yazzie told NBC News the situation was “very difficult” and her family had to rely on dial-up internet service that was outdated at the time.

Interior Dry. Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as cabinet secretary, explained the importance of rolling out tribal broadband.

“Kids shouldn’t have to sit outside libraries, fast food joints or other public spaces to use Wi-Fi to do their homework,” she wrote in June 2021. “We have a responsibility to build infrastructure that will fuel economic development, keep families safe, and ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

In addition to grants for implementing or repairing broadband service, the Biden administration announced in May that it had reached agreements with major broadband providers to reduce prices for broadband services for families. eligible in underserved communities, in some cases fully subsidizing service costs through infrastructure package funding.

States are also using funds from the US bailout, separate legislation that Biden championed and signed into law in 2021, to expand broadband availability to underserved communities.

Published with permission of the American Independent Foundation.

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