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Expanding Opportunity, Access, and Connectivity to Indian Country: The National Tribal Broadband Summit

Oct 10, 2019, by Therese Perlowski
Tags: CAP, Toward Gigabit Libraries

In his opening remarks at the National Tribal Broadband Summit, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai described "closing the digital divide" as a matter of life and death.

The event, hosted by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), U.S. Department of Education, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), brought together tribal leaders, public and private sector organizations, and federal decision makers to strategize about expanding broadband opportunity, access, and connectivity to tribal communities. The sentiment of urgency echoed throughout the gathering voiced a clear consensus that broadband access truly is a necessity, and that a gap in adequate connectivity in tribal communities persists.  

The conference highlighted several innovative resources and solutions for libraries. Carson Block, Library Technology Consultant, and Nicole Umayum, Arizona Digital Inclusion Librarian, discussed the Toward Gigabit Libraries toolkit, an initiative developed by Internet2 through an IMLS-funded grant, as a tool for smaller tribal libraries to assess their current infrastructure and gather data to illustrate community needs.

Umayum also shared the Hopi Public Library project, which turned a truck into a mobile lab for internet access and digital skills training. The library also ran a "Hopi Digitization Week," when community members could digitize documents for cultural preservation, such as photos, historical documents, and audio and music files. In addition, Don Means, Director of the Gigabit Libraries Network, introduced the "Library Whitespace Project," which helps libraries expand community wireless access through the use of unlicensed TV whitespaces.

The program emphasized collaboration and strong partnerships. Kimball Sekaquaptewa, Chief Technology Director of the Santa Fe Indian School, shared her success stories about the Middle Rio Grande Pueblo Tribal Consortium (including the Pueblos of Santa Ana, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, and Cochiti) and the Jemez Pueblo Tribal Consortium (including the Pueblos of Jemez and Zia). The collaborative project leveraged e-rate funds to build 120 miles of fiber to bring six New Mexico tribal libraries and two state charter schools onto the new network.

The connection to schools is enabling students to succeed in their mandatory online testing and opening the door to all types of new learning, from distance college dual enrollment, to virtual field trips across the globe. Specifically, Sekaquaptewa shared her excitement about the idea of native language revitalization, as schools now can use videoconferencing to share and teach native languages. Tribal library connectivity enables libraries to act as centers during emergencies. This connectivity also expands the potential for adult education classes, after-school homework support, and social services for seniors, those with disabilities, and veterans.

Other presentations regarding resources and ongoing initiatives working toward closing the connectivity gap included:

  • DOI Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, who shared an interactive map as part of the DOI’s priority to help coordinate communication and connect tribal communities to providers. The map illustrates the locations of existing federal broadband infrastructure, including helping tribes/customers to identify land management agencies and make more informed choices.
  • FCC representatives shared the creation of a tribal priority filing window for new Educational Broadband Services spectrum over tribal lands. Read the Report and Order.
  • Senior Broadband Specialist Jean Rice presented the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s "Planning a Community Broadbank Roadmap toolkit" for local and tribal governments. The toolkit aims to walk tribes through necessary steps to create a strategic vision and goals, analyze existing community resources and needs, identify potential collaborations, and create tactical plans to realize their vision. 

The summit provided an excellent opportunity to learn about the many innovative best practices and solutions being implemented that CAP can support in closing the connectivity gap facing tribal lands. More information about the summit can be found at: https://www.doi.gov/tribalbroadband