🇺🇸 Nearly $1B available for broadband expansion on Tribal lands 

By Shondiin Silversmith, Alaska Beacon - August 3, 2023

(Image via Getty Images)
(Image via Getty Images)

To fill the gap in broadband service among Tribal Nations, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration launched the second round of grant funding to expand Internet access and adoption on Tribal Lands.

Approximately $980 million in funding is available through the Internet for All initiative’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program for Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities, to develop internet infrastructure on Tribal lands, affordability programs, telehealth and distance learning initiatives.

“These investments will provide new opportunities for Tribal communities to participate in telehealth, online education, remote work and countless other benefits that Internet access can bring,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.

The Connectivity Program comes at a cost of $3 billion through President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Consolidated Appropriations Act.

“Through President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda, we are providing the resources necessary to deploy high-quality, high-speed Internet service across Tribal Lands,” Raimondo said.

The program seeks to improve quality of life, spur economic development and create opportunities for remote employment, online entrepreneurship, remote learning and telehealth. The program is expected to achieve this by expanding broadband access and providing digital training and inclusion programs to Native American communities.

“The digital divide has disproportionately impacted people in Tribal communities for years,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Alan Davidson.  “But thanks to our Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, that’s finally starting to change.”

During its first round of funding, the program awarded $1.78 billion to 191 Tribal entities since 2021, including 11 Tribal entities from Arizona. 

The Gila River Indian Community was one of the applicants awarded funding in 2021, and it received $4.4 million to help improve access to and use of broadband internet service among Tribal citizens.

At the time, Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said the funding was vital because it would allow them to take the next steps toward digital equity.

The application process is now open to eligible entities, which includes Tribal governments, Tribal colleges or universities, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands on behalf of the Native Hawaiian community, including Native Hawaiian education programs, Tribal organizations or Alaska Native corporations.

Funding from the program must go toward broadband infrastructure deployment, for example, the development of affordable broadband programs, including providing free or reduced-cost broadband service and preventing disconnection of existing broadband service.

“This latest round of funding will provide Indian Country with affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service,” Davidson said.

During this round of funding, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration expects the grant range to vary. Still, for broadband internet infrastructure deployment projects proposed by a single applicant, funding ranges from $1 million to $50 million, and for broadband internet adoption and use projects, funding ranges from $100,000 to $2.5 million.

The funding ranges are not required minimums and maximums, according to the administration, but if proposed projects are seeking funding outside of these ranges, they will be required to provide a reasonable explanation for the variance in their project size.

Eligible entities are welcome to apply for the program through January 2024, and the administration will conduct a three-stage review process to evaluate applications.

Details about the grant process can be found through the Internet for All website.

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