The U.S. Department of Commerce will award $105.8 million to five tribes in Arizona to fund high-speed internet connections in communities that lack such services. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., were in Arizona to formally announce the grants Tuesday.
The money, part of the Internet for All Initiative, will fund projects through the agency’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program for Hopi Telecommunications, Inc., Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, San Carlos Apache Tribal Council/Triplet Mountain Communications, Inc. and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.
More than 33,300 homes will get high-speed internet service as a result of the project.
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A 2018 report by the Federal Communications Commission found that 35% of people living in tribal lands across the U.S. lack internet service. The report noted that the need for home broadband access across Native communities became increasingly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when students and workers struggled to find resources for online classes and telework.
The Commerce Department awards are the last of the more than $500 million package that Vice President Kamala Harris announced would be awarded by the end of August. The department said 25 tribes had received nearly $635 million from the initiative’s grant program.
“Closing the digital divide for tribes in Arizona has been a long-held priority,” said Bernadine Burnette, president of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. More than 30% of Native people living on tribal lands in Arizona lack access to broadband, she said.
“The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program grants will assist our students with equal access to educational opportunities,” Burnette said. “Tribes will be able to fully participate in e-commerce activities as well as bring state-of-the art medical technologies such as telemedicine to their communities even in rural and remote locations.”
Raimondo said tribal communities should not be left without affordable and reliable high-speed internet.
“Direct investment into tribal communities is a crucial step in closing the digital divide in Indian country while protecting local customs and traditions and creating new opportunities for global engagement and growth,” the secretary said.
The grants are part of a larger effort by the Biden administration to expand broadband internet service to rural and tribal communities through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.
Debra Krol reports on Indigenous communities at the confluence of climate, culture and commerce in Arizona and the Intermountain West. Reach Krol at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @debkrol.
Coverage of Indigenous issues at the intersection of climate, culture and commerce is supported by the Catena Foundation.
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