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The Digital Justice Work of Native Public Media

WASHINGTON, DC – Broadband, is it a utility or a commodity? For Native Public Media, the Internet is a utility, like electricity that should be available to every person and household; not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. While there are many perspectives on how to categorize Broadband, ultimately everyone wants it. The want or need of broadband and the Internet ranges from having an open and free internet to improving technology for higher speeds to building infrastructure to connect rural American homes. For Native Americans living on their tribal lands, it is all of the above.

NPM is a long-time advocate of Tribal Nations receiving and participating in web-based technologies and services. But first things first, tribes require the infrastructure to bring the connection to the homes of their citizens. Over the past month, NPM sought to strategize how non-profit organizations can elevate technology and media issues specifically focused on Tribal Nations among the 2020 presidential candidates.

“Broadband is a narrative about digital justice. Presidential candidates, Congressional leaders, and voters across Indian Country need more light on the issues of how important the Internet is to all of us,” states Melissa Begay, NPM Operations Manager. Senator Martha McSally who sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and Congressman O’Halleran, both Arizona representatives, during the past month were provided more awareness on the need for broadband infrastructure by NPM for the 21 Tribal Nations in Arizona.

In its official statement to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during the September 18, 2019 oversight hearing on the GAO Report on Tribal Access to Spectrum: Promoting Communications Services in Indian Country, Loris Taylor, President and CEO of NPM stated, “Since the early 2000s, Tribes have lagged behind the rest of the U.S. in access to telecommunications services, both telephone, and the Internet. The digital divide on Tribal lands is but the latest example of that historic disparity.”

Recommendations in the statement include the creation of a National Broadband Advisory Council by Congress that would bring federal agencies together with the goal of closing the digital divide across Indian Country. The 2019 National Tribal Broadband Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Department of Education, and the Institute of Museum of Library Services in Washington DC, is a good example of federal interagency cooperation needed by Tribes to strategize how to bring high-speed Internet to their communities.,

The Summit convened Tribal Leaders to learn about Expanding Opportunity, Access, and Connectivity in Indian Country, Planning a Broadband Roadmap, Bridging the Digital Divide, and Broadband Deployment and Adoption from several federal agencies. Each agency holds a piece of the puzzle for increased broadband deployment and penetration across tribal lands. The FCC and USDA presented funding opportunities to connect Tribal Nations such as E-rate. Many Tribes have taken advantage of E-rate to connect schools and libraries, however, often the connection stops there.

“Information about broadband spectrum and the financing of deployment is premium to tribal strategies, just as much as having a broadband champion on the ground,” states Taylor.

During the Summit, the FCC announced the establishment of a priority filing window for Tribes to secure 2.5 GHz spectrum to address the needs of their communities. This low-band spectrum travels longer distances with minimal signal interruption. With continued dialogue and consultations between Tribes and federal agencies, Indian Country can also work towards securing high-band spectrum (above 24 GHz) with high capacity and ultra-fast speeds.

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