On Oct 15-16, 2014 Tribal, industry and government exness leaders gathered at the Tulalip Resort Casino, Tulalip, WA to focus on bringing broadband to tribal lands at the Taking Smoke Signals Digital Telecom Conference. Our presenters and guest speakers gave tribal leaders a toolkit to begin exploring the opportunity of bringing high speed broadband to their organizations and communities. Click here to view the SmokeSignal Digital Conference materials

Time to Bring Broadband to Indian Country!

On October 7 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Tom Wheeler gave a speech in Washington D.C. proclaiming that “In 2014, opportunity exness platform for all requires broadband for all.” However, this Broadband Revolution has not reached Indian Country, especially in Washington State. Private utilities, telecommunications or cable companies continue to be reluctant to invest the resources to develop the necessary infrastructure required to digitize the rural areas because of the sparse population and perceived lack of return on the investment.

The statistics are alarming. Broadband coverage in Indian Country is less than 10% per capita, one eighth of the national average. Many Native communities’ schools, libraries and healthcare facilities are still on dial-up, adversely impacting most aspects of business, the public sector, tribal sovereignty and self-governance.

“There are wide expanses of rural areas that are going without broadband,” says Sen. John McCoy (D-Tulalip), the ranking Democrat on Washington’s Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee. “For example on the Makah reservation the connectivity issue has been moving forward and making progress and yet, on the day the students have exness broker register to take tests online, the tribal government has to shut down so the kids have bandwidth to take their tests.”

Simply put, without access to broadband, tribal members cannot receive the education or access to healthcare that their peers receive.

“There are still many areas of Washington State where being underserved or not served by broadband is still a prevalent problem,” said Senator McCoy recently.  This situation really hits home in light of the fact that the Washington Board of Education is pushing for wide scale electronic testing. How can they implement that requirement when there are so many areas without broadband?

Right now we have an historic opportunity to begin to bridge the digital divide and bring the necessary technology and broadband coverage to Indian Country. Federal and state governments have allocated funds that tribes and their strategic partners can use to bring broadband to tribal lands. The FCC, USDA, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) have grants available to address telephony and Internet gaps in Indian Country.  In fact, some Washington tribes, like the Colville and Yakama, have received funds from these agencies to build out networks – but more needs to be done.

Through multi-million dollar programs such as the FCC’s Connect America Fund and e-rate programs, rural and tribal schools “should” be able to get the broadband they need.

Roadblocks to accomplishing this include the commitment, time, effort, expertise and expense needed to reach out and jump through the regulatory hoops to get the available money.  Tribes also need to determine the best type of technology and the best providers who can bring it to their community.  Increasingly wireless technologies are being used to provide broadband access in remote areas where traditional wireline could not be placed. Tribal/commercial partnerships should be considered to provide non-traditional solutions to telecommunications needs not being met by legacy providers or legacy providers should reach out to play a role!

The bottom line is that tribes, federal and state governments, and private enterprises need to move forward now  to create that opportunity for all that Wheeler  talked about.  The Obama Administration has supported the concept that access to broadband should a right for all Americans—including tribal members—just as access to education is now viewed.

We want tribal leaders, telecommunications carriers, high-tech industry professionals, and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the current ethos and feel empowered to utilize the federal, state and private resources needed to bring broadband into Indian Country. We are tremendously excited about the opportunities.

For more information, please contact Lael Echo-Hawk lechohawk@gsblaw.com or Judy Endejan  jendejan@gsblaw.com.

Click here to view the SmokeSignal Digital Conference materials