- By Valerie Vande Panne
Today, the White House announced nearly $10 million in funding awards from the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, and Agriculture that will be leveraged to expand access to affordable, reliable, and high-speed internet services to Tribal Nations.
“This is just the beginning,” Libby Washburn, Special Assistant to the President for Native Affairs at the White House, told Native News Online. “We have a lot of money going into broadband in Indian Country. This is just the beginning of that process, so it's very exciting.”
Last year, Congress authorized the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which provides $1 billion in COVID-relief aid funding for tribal broadband, to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
The pool of funding announced today includes some of that NTIA money announced last year.
“There will be more [funding] to come,” from that pool, Washburn said. “They're still going through 280 remaining applications. And then we have new money coming in.”
Washburn says in addition to the $1 billion provided for via NTIA, there is an additional $2 billion more that was put into the bipartisan infrastructure law. “So we will see $3 billion go out ultimately through this program,” said Washburn.
There is also funding available as part of a $10 billion capital project fund from the Treasury Department. And there is money being distributed from the Commerce Department's economic development agency (EDA) and from the USDA’s Community Connect program.
Washburn expects the distribution of funding will pick up in early 2022.
“Every [federally recognized] tribe has the ability to get $167,000,” from the Treasury Department, says Washburn. This is money that tribes can use for the purchase of laptops and tablets for members.
According to a statement from the White House, the money for tribal Internet access announced today is being distributed as follows:
- The Economic Development Agency (EDA) at the Department of Commerce is awarding $3.2 million to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Towaoc, Colorado, to construct broadband infrastructure that will connect the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation and the City of Towaoc to the City of Cortez, increasing access to distance learning and telemedicine, supporting public safety, and allowing for business and entrepreneurial growth across the reservation and region. This EDA investment is expected to create 33 jobs and generate $550,000 in private investment.
- [NTIA] is making a second set of awards totaling more than $942,000 under its Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. Those awards will go to the Yavapai-Apache Nation in Camp Verde, Arizona and the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians in Stone Lake, Wisconsin. The awards will be for feasibility and planning studies to determine the best way to provide broadband services to reach 2,500 members of the Yavapai-Apache Nation and the approximately 40% of Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians with no internet service available to them.
- The Treasury Department… [is making] its first set of awards [to the] Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewarts Point Rancheria, California, and the Rampart Village of Alaska will each be receiving $167,504 awards. The first two awards will be used to purchase laptops or tablets for use by Tribal members, and to outfit community rooms where members can access the internet. The award to Rampart Village in Alaska will be used to help fund construction of a multi purpose building that will be used for education, training for work, and health activities. It will provide space for job skills training and other adult education. The project will also include space for community internet access, a service that does not currently exist in the area.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded more than $4.6 million, as part of its Community Connect program, to fund broadband infrastructure on Tribal lands: The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa to provide fiber-to-the-home internet access to the residents of the Meskwaki Settlement Tama County, Iowa; to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) Wireless to provide a combination of wireless and fiber-based broadband service to the Teec Noc Pos community and surrounding area of the Navajo Reservation in Apache County, Arizona and San Juan County, New Mexico, and to the Interior Telephone Company to provide fiber-to-the-home internet access in Port Lions, Kodiak Island Borough, Alaska. In addition to deploying new broadband infrastructure, each award recipient will provide two years of free internet access at a local community center.
“It's a lot of different little grants to tribes. It also helps them to prepare… for planning and feasibility. We want every tribe to be ready for that money,” said Washburn. “This money is exciting… The need is great.”
The Treasury Department is continuing to review applications for the $10 Billion Capital Projects Fund and will announce additional awards on a rolling basis. Applications are still being accepted more information is available on the Department of Treasury’s website.
Tribes may also apply for EDA money.
NTIA awards applications are now closed, but there is some discussion about opening them back up. Native News Online will do our best to announce when/if application opportunities re-open.
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