Tag: "tribal lands"

Posted August 14, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Tribal residents and others living along near Six Rivers National Forest in Humboldt County, California are about to get a broadband boost. The Yurok and Karuk Tribes announced at the end of July that the Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative received more than $10 million from the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC's) California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to add over a 100 miles of additional fiber to the project’s community network, connecting hundreds of additional homes, businesses, and anchor institutions. The award marks the second injection of funding from the CPUC’s grant program to the initiative. 

Over the River and Through the Woods

Humboldt County covers more than 4,000 square miles along the coast in the northwest part of the state, about 60 miles west of Redding. It’s one of the least-densely populated areas in the state, marked by rural, mountainous, rugged terrain for the roughly 150,000 people who live there. Those in the northern fifth of the county have it particularly hard; the region is bounded by national forests on either side, with the Klamath River running down the middle. As recently as 2009, telephone service in the region was unreliable, and Internet access was restricted to dial-up or satellite. The Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative (KRRBI) has been working since 2013 to address this digital divide.

The new CPUC award totals a little more than $10.8 million to add 104 miles of new fiber to their middle-mile network. Last-mile connections come via fixed wireless, a cost-effective way to bring broadband to rural areas. The new route will connect the communities of Orleans to Orick and Weitchpec to Wautec and Johnsons, bringing new service to 616 households, 8 first responder agencies, and 14 additional anchor institutions like schools, tribal offices, and health care clinics. The project will also add three redundant links to the existing network across the 80-square mile area.

“For the residents of far Northern California, this initiative will...

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Posted August 10, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

The United States Office of the Comptroller is hosting a webinar at the end of the month called “Banks Finance Broadband in Rural Areas & Indian Country” aimed at banks and local leaders looking to form partnerships to fund broadband projects for rural and tribal communities across the country. 

In addition to providing basic information on how community financial institutions can work with local governments, participants in a 2017 partnership which brought broadband to Fort Berthold Indian Reservation will be present to discuss their experience and answer questions.

Register for the event by clicking here.

New Rule, New Financing Options

Tribal communities face a host of ongoing connectivity obstacles, all of which have been exacerbated by the current public health crisis. Native student populations are much more likely to be affected by the homework gap, a problem that will remain as states and school districts struggle to put together a cohesive connectivity plan for the upcoming school year.

The program is one of the many that together come from the OCC's participation in the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), passed in 1977. The CRA directs federal financial regulators (including the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) to push FDIC-insured financial institutions to meet the credit needs of the communities they’re a part of, with emphasis on low- and moderate-income regions.

A new rule allows banks to consider broadband an essential infrastructure for financing projects, giving rural stakeholders wider access to capital for those kinds of ventures under consideration. It was adopted by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, of which the OCC is a member agency, in July of 2016 [pdf]. The Council now cites Internet...

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Posted July 28, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Yesterday, Congresswoman Deb Haaland and Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the DIGITAL Reservations Act, a bill which ends the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) practice of selling wireless spectrum rights on the lands of Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations and grants ownership, management, and governance of all spectrum to those groups in perpetuity. The bill also calls for the creation of an FCC fund to support broadband efforts, an advisory team to provide regulatory and technical assistance, and a data collection program to support future connectivity efforts in those communities. It represents a dramatic new approach to addressing the digital divide in Tribal communities, which remain among the least well-connected of all across the United States today.

Breaking Down the Bill

The Deploying the Internet by Guaranteeing Indian Tribes Autonomy over Licensing on Reservations Act [pdf] offers significant investment in a multi-pronged approach. It’s driven by twin impulses. From the bill

To date, the [Federal Communications] Commission has failed to implement nationwide spectrum opportunities or uniform licensing for Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to make spectrum available over their Tribal lands or account for the unmet needs of native Nations in compliance with the Federal trust responsibility.

The Commission’s actions parallel failed Federal Reservation Era policy that divided Indian land holdings and created systemic barriers to Indian Tribes’ economic development and legal jurisdictional complications on Tribal lands that continue to disadvantage Tribal communities today.

The bill takes significant steps in outlining the new ownership framework. If enacted, it eliminates future spectrum auctions over Tribal and Native Hawaiian lands. To address existing partnerships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the bill also provides a process to ensure that existing third-party licensees “build or divest”...

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Posted April 14, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

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...

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Posted February 7, 2020 by lgonzalez

Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands, a report from the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University (AIPI) provides a detailed examination of broadband access, device use, and uses of the Internet by Tribal peoples on Tribal lands. Authors Brian Howard and Traci Morris completed the 2019 report aiming to develop a closer look at the digital divide and "to create a new baseline for future studies with the expectation of potentially measuring growth in coming years."

The AIPI worked with Tribal leadership and members to design a study that would include the participation of those living on Tribal lands. In addition to providing historical perspective on why the issue of digital inclusion has not been studied adequately, the authors address the multiple facets of the digital divide(s) that Native American peoples who live on Tribal lands face and how the large ISPs have left most behind.

The report explains in detail the survey questions, results, and methodology.

Based on the results of the survey, AIPI provides policy recommendations directed at different public and private sectors. At the foundation of their recommendations is the link between local self-reliance and increased adoption of better connectivity:

There needs to be a new model to address the Digital Divide prevalent in rural and Tribal America. What is needed is a positively related regulatory disruption to find new solutions for community based networks for positive social disruption.

AIPI makes recommendations for Congress, such as:

  • Establish the Office of Native Affairs and Policy as a standalone, independent office at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with a permanent annual budget.
  • Establish a Tribal Broadband Fund to support broadband deployment, maintenance, and technical assistance training.

Recommendations for the telecom industry include:

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Posted February 4, 2020 by lgonzalez

On February 3rd, 2020, the FCC opened the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window, a six month period in which federally recognized Tribes or Alaska Native Villages have the opportunity to apply for licenses to unassigned spectrum over their Tribal lands. This week on the podcast, we have two guests from MuralNet — CEO Mariel Triggs and Edyael Casaperalta, Legal Advisor and Policy Strategist. MuralNet, a nonprofit that focuses on helping indigenous people build their own networks, has been working to spread the word about the Rural Tribal Priority Window.

Historically, national Internet access companies have fallen short in bringing their services to people living on tribal lands. A few Tribes have been able to develop their own community networks, but others have found roadblocks when competing with large ISPs for spectrum or for funding. As a result, Tribal communities are some of the least connected in the U.S. Mariel and Edyael discuss how fixed wireless, using the 2.5 Ghz band spectrum is well suited to help solve this persistent problem. They share some of the challenges they’ve faced and offer some tips with deployment and in working to develop policy.

We learn more about the criteria that tribes need to meet in order to apply and how, even if they don’t plan on building their own network, owning access to the spectrum is, nevertheless, empowering. Tribes may not wish to operate a community network, but owning the airwaves above their land gives them some control over how those airwaves are used.

To learn more about the claiming the airwaves over Tribal Land, check out MuralNet’s website here. They're always willing to answer questions and to help with the process.

Legal...

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Posted December 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

In October, the East Oregonian reported that the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) are planning to develop a broadband network.

From the East Oregonian:

Ryan DeGrofft, an economic planner for the CTUIR, said the tribes are planning the project in three phases.

The first would create a fiber loop between the CTUIR’s government facilities and tribal enterprises like Wildhorse Resort and Casino. The second phase would connect the reservation to Pendleton’s fiber infrastructure.

The final phase would see the tribes becoming its own Internet service provider for residential customers living on the reservation.

DeGrofft cautioned that the plan was still in its early stages, and even if all phases came to pass, there still might be some remote parts of the reservation that might not get the service.

At this point, DeGrofft said the CTUIR is conducting a survey to get a sense of where Internet speeds are across the reservation. Anecdotally, even some locations in Mission are experiencing slow and spotty internet service.

DeGrofft said the project is dependent on obtaining funding through grants and other sources, so there isn’t a definitive timeline for it yet.

CTUIR is asking community members to run a speed test and submit their results. They also want to know where there is no service and encourage people to contact Tribal Services.

The tribes live in the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Umatilla County in northeast Oregon. Three tribes - Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla - make up the CTUIR. There are about 2,900 people as registered members with approximately half living on or near the reservation, which is about 290 square miles. People from other tribes and non-Native Americans also live on reservation land.

Posted December 18, 2019 by lgonzalez

The USDA's ReConnect Program to expand broadband in rural areas has been awarding funding for several weeks now; electric and telephone cooperatives have received significant awards. In North Carolina, Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC) recently learned that their application for ReConnect funds has been granted and the cooperative will receive $7.9 million toward expanding their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service.

Celebrating in Columbus County

Cooperative CEO and General Manager Keith Holden, USDA State Director for North Carolina Robert Hosford, and Chief of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe Michael Jacobs gathered at the Tribe Headquarters in Bolton to announce the award and discuss the project. ATMC will match the USDA grant with an additional $7.9 million, rather than take a loan from the ReConnect program. The total cost of the project is around $15.87 million and will deploy FTTH to more than 2,700 premises, including homes and more than 50 businesses. The infrastructure will also serve three critical community facilities, ten educational facilities, and 23 agricultural operations in northern Columbus County. 

At the event, Hosford noted that better connectivity will help agricultural establishments in the region, one of the main sectors of the local economy. 

“The health and vibrance of rural communities most usually is from farmers and forestry in this state,” Hosford said. “If those small communities are healthy, that means their farming communities are healthy, and this is just another tool in our toolbox to help these rural communities.” 

Hosford said the agriculture industry has struggled in recent months due to ongoing trade disputes, so any boost is a welcome one.

ATMC will use the funding to build out to Tabor City, Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, and areas north of Whiteville.

Other Grant Sources 

The co-op is adding the ReConnect grant to other funding it received in 2019, including a $1 million award from the state. Funding came from the NC...

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Posted October 29, 2019 by lgonzalez

Okanogan County and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are working together in central Washington to bring last mile broadband connectivity to the region. The partners have created the Broadband Action Team (BAT)  and are working step by step to develop fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for about 42,000 people in the area. They recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) as they search for a firm to help develop a County and Tribal Broadband Strategic Plan. Proposals are due November 26th, 2019.

Read the RFP here.

In the Face of Difficulties

Okanogan County and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have contended with significant challenges. According to the RFP:

Much of Okanogan County, including the Colville Reservation within Okanogan County, is plagued with high unemployment, excessive poverty, and an absence of quality of life amenities that have proven to be undesirable to most residents and insurmountable barriers to 21st century economic and community development. Okanogan County and the Colville Confederated Tribes are historically and economically a distressed area. Historically, the surrounding areas within Okanogan County have been dependent on a resource-based economy. Community and economic resources have decreased dramatically as a substantial as the Omak Mill, closed. Many individuals have struggled to find work elsewhere and have either had to move, find government work, or start their own business.

Like many other communities that have decided it’s time to diversify their economy, leaders have determined that improving connectivity is necessary for economic development. Other livability issues, such as public safety, educational opportunities, and distance learning will improve in the region with the Internet access that people now lack. 

Both parties also believe that this project will help strengthen their ability to jointly collect data regarding other infrastructure needs in the area. The county and the tribe want to pursue planning for other projects and work together.

Back in September 2019, we reported on earlier steps by the county and  the tribe along...

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Posted September 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

In central Washington, the Methow Valley, Okanogan County, and the Colville Confederated Tribes Broadband Action Teams (BAT) are teaming up to improve connectivity and shrink the digital divide across the Methow Valley. As part of the process the BAT has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for technical assessment and technical implementation planning to help them meet their goals. Deadline for proposals is September 30th, but the BAT has indicated that they will grant an extension upon request.

Review the RFP here.

Making Improvements

Methow Valley boasts its scenic treasures, including the North Cascades National Park and the Columbia River. Tourists visit the region for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and vibrant arts scene. Like other similarly situated communities where natural beauty is an important feature, high-quality Internet access is difficult to come by.

According to the RFP:

Many residents of the Methow Valley live below the poverty line and have limited access to affordable, high-speed Internet services. This lack of access has impacts on education, economic growth and viability, emergency services, and quality of life. Simply put, this area lacks reliable wide-spread broadband access necessary to overcome these challenges. 

In September, the Washington State Department of Commerce's Community Revitalization Board awarded a $50,000 grant to the BAT and the Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) to dig deeper into the need for broadband service in the Methow Valley. Okanogan County provided a match of $16,667 to secure the state grant. The funding has allowed the BAT to move forward on this project.

Read more in the TwispPDA Methow Valley Position Paper [PDF] here.

In 2018, the BAT began working toward better connectivity by creating a work plan, seeking out stakeholders, and obtaining community input. This year, they wish to expand on their planning process and conduct a technical assessment. In order to complete this phase of the plan, the BAT wants a consultant who will:

  • Facilitate Joint Planning with the BAT Team and its Stakeholders
  • Identify...
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