Increased Broadband Access Critical for Our Rural Communities

President Obama at Choctaw Nation on Wednesday - Photo by Reid Williams

President Obama at Choctaw Nation on Wednesday – Photo by Reid Williams

Guest Commentary

Last week President Barack Obama launched a new program called ConnectHome, which will expand broadband access for the rural communities and make high-speed Internet more affordable for low-income families. He made the national announcement in Durant, Oklahoma, the headquarters of our neighboring tribe, the Choctaw Nation.

I appreciate the president’s keen interest to provide broadband Internet across Indian Country because it will help our Cherokee families and students access the resources they need. I know these struggles with connection firsthand. Like many of you, my home is in rural Cherokee County, and I have issues with connectivity.

The ConnectHome initiative is a partnership between the White House and the Department of Housing and Urban Development aimed at providing the most vulnerable families with access to affordable high-speed Internet in their homes. But our Cherokee Nation citizens can also benefit from greater access to the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund programs that help low-income families.

Access to broadband and voice service is important for the education and well-being of our families. It’s vital for northeast Oklahoma to remain competitive in the growing global economy. To attract jobs and train our future workforce is a necessity. The idea for ConnectHome allows people, including our tribal citizens, to continue learning and working at home.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Principal Chief Bill John Baker

It’s equally important for the wellness and health of Cherokee families. For example, in Adair County, an elderly couple battling health obstacles recently needed emergency care. Instead of being able to call or email for help, another family member in that household had to walk to another home where coverage and accessibility were better to make the call for help.

We should have the ability to be connected to the larger world. Making investments in access to communications will improve the lives of tribal citizens in Oklahoma and across the nation, where many tribal communities are remote.

This president has made Indian Country a priority during his tenure. I was impressed that he made time to meet individually with several of our Cherokee students who attended this major announcement. He took the time to hear their needs and concerns. And giving these young leaders an opportunity to meet a U.S. president will resonate with them far into the future.

This opportunity comes on the heels of the historic Generation Indigenous gathering recently held in Washington, D.C., where tribal youth leaders were hosted by the president and first lady and given the opportunity to share the issues most important to them and their communities, including physical and mental wellness, cultural preservation and access to education. Several Cherokee youth ambassadors attended and came home reenergized to make a difference for the future of the Cherokee Nation.

Wado.

Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

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