Upcoming Rural Assembly Events Spotlight Critical Need for Better Rural and Tribal Broadband During Pandemic

Over the next couple weeks, the Rural Assembly is hosting two livestreamed events on Internet access in rural and Native communities during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The conversations will address the topic from different angles. The first event, scheduled for Thursday, April 16 at 4 p.m. ET, will explore how people in rural areas and on tribal lands are accessing broadband and the impacts of limited connectivity. Speakers at the second session, on Friday, April 22 at 4 p.m. ET, will discuss how federal policymakers and other government officials are addressing the lack of reliable rural broadband and what more needs to be done.

Register now for the free events.

Old Problem, New Urgency

This isn’t a new concern — rural and tribal communities have struggled with inadequate connectivity since before the Internet even existed, when people had to unite to invest in their own telephone networks.

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent data, broadband is still unavailable to more than 20 percent of rural Americans. Nearly a quarter of the tribal population also lacks access to broadband infrastructure. Even when broadband is supposedly available, many households still can’t subscribe because federal data overstates coverage and services aren’t always affordable or reliable.

Now, the movement of most life online in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus has raised the stakes for rural and Native communities already impacted by poor broadband access. Not only will communities without adequate connectivity have a harder time keeping people safe at home and connected to essential services like schooling and healthcare during the global crisis, but they will also face a steeper climb out of the economic recession once the pandemic recedes.

Event Details

The Rural Assembly is hosting the first online conversation on Thursday, April 16 at 4 p.m. ET. Panelists will discuss the current state of connectivity in indigenous and rural communities and describe how poor connectivity is limiting access to education, employment, and healthcare during the pandemic. “This conversation does not present solutions,” the Rural Assembly explains on their site. “Instead, it seeks to learn about the impact that substandard or lack of Internet service has on the safety and wellbeing of rural and Native communities.”

Edyael Casaperalta, Attorney at Casaperalta Law, is the moderator for the first event. Speakers include Mark Estrada, Superintendent at Lockhart Independent School District in Texas; Dr. Libby Cope, Health Director at Sophie Trettevick Indian Health Center in Washington; Tim Lampkin, CEO at Higher Purpose Co. in Mississippi; and Kim Phinney, Senior Fellow at Center for Rural Strategies in Vermont.

The second session is on Friday, April 22 at 4 p.m. ET. It will cover the government response to the current broadband crisis in rural areas and tribal lands. Panelists to be announced.

More details and registration are available on the Rural Assembly’s website.

In the meantime, listen to episode 393 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to hear Edyael Casaperalta, moderator of the first session, talk about Internet access in indigenous communities and tribal fixed wireless networks.