Hilo, HA – As the year 2019 came to a close, one of the largest convening of researchers, policymakers, internet service providers, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and community members from Alaska Native Villages, and First Nations Reserves in Canada took place during the Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Hilo Hawaii. Growing zero-gig communities that have become typical across indigenous communities is a major concern for indigenous leaders.
Zero gig communities are characterized by the absence of broadband, communities that trail behind in accessing telecommunications services even where it is available, specifically high-speed Internet, and the failure of governments and corporate interests to build broadband infrastructure into communities largely unserved or underserved.
“It takes me 17 minutes to post a tweet,” states Madeleine Redfern, former mayor of Iqaluit, Nunavut (2010-2019) explained that while they utilize a low earth orbit satellite in the artic, connectivity that often drops and is inconsistent in speed and quality is extremely expensive.
Most Indigenous leaders agree spectrum that puts people first is essential to increasing broadband penetration into Indigenous communities. Spectrum is a range of radio-waves that are used for communication purposes.
“Native Public Media Board member Danae Wilson (Nez Perce) explained that spectrum can lead to self-determination for Tribal Nations because there is value to spectrum, and it can be monetized. “With strong and reliable broadband infrastructure, many Tribes have the land base to build call or service centers and people to employ. There is no need to outsource to other countries when the same tax benefits exist with Tribal Nations within the United States.”
Where the Internet has become available, Indigenous communities have experienced profound leaps in economic prosperity, educational access, and civic engagement and find that the Internet can be used to revitalize language and culture. Indigenous web and app developers are on the rise, taking advantage of connectivity to create apps to revitalize tribal languages or to share tribal history and culture with the world.
Yugtun.com created by Christopher Liu hosts a language and dictionary tool to help amplify the Yup’ik culture and language for his people in Bethel, Alaska. In Hawaii, Kamehameha schools and Kanaeokana partnered with Duolingo, a free language education website to create curricula for preschools and universities to revitalize the Hawaiian language.
The Federal Communications Commission announced in December 2019 the first Tribal Priority regarding the allocation of 2.5 Ghz Spectrum for U.S. federally recognized American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages. “This spectrum will help to build community networks. But in the context of sound analogy, Tribes are only given a whisper whereas Internet Service Providers are given booms and blow horns. U.S. Tribes will need more spectrum to close the digital divide in order to reap the digital benefits of Tribal creativity and innovation on a sustained basis,” states Melissa Begay of Native Public Media.