AIPI Policy Review: Barriers and Challenges for Tribal Access to Broadband Internet

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, an estimated 35 percent of residents of Tribal lands[i] lacked access to broadband speeds at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload (25 Mbps/3 Mbps)[ii], which is the U.S. standard. Comparatively, the majority of the U.S. population has access to high-speed broadband at or above the standard with just 8 percent without a broadband connection[iii]. Since the early 2000’s, Tribes have lagged behind the rest of the U.S. in access to telecommunications services, both telephone and internet; this is exemplative of the digital divide on Tribal lands.

Recognizing the persistent disparity in telecommunications availability on Tribal lands, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs directed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a series of federal performance audits throughout 2018 to determine current challenges and barriers to access. Two of these reports culminated in an Oversight Hearing held by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in October 2018, while another report released in November 2018 highlighted issues with Tribal access to wireless spectrum.

This AIPI Brief will provide:

I.   An overview of GAO’s findings recognizing barriers and challenges to telecommunications access for residents of Tribal lands;

  1. FCC’s Data Overstate Access on Tribal Lands
  2. Few Partnerships Exist and the Rural Utilities Service Needs to Identify and Address Any Funding Barriers Tribes Face
  3. FCC Should Undertake Efforts to Better Promote Tribal Access to Spectrum

II.   Reiteration of issues highlighted in Testimony Provided at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on, “GAO Reports Relating to Broadband Availability on Tribal Lands”;

III.   A summary of recommendations offered by the GAO, and Witness Testimony offered to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, to address disparate telecommunications access on Tribal lands.