Closing the digital divide: new bill can get Indigenous populations online

On October 14, 2020, U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act of 2020. The legislation would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create additional time for Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to apply for spectrum licenses to deploy wireless broadband services. Despite requests to the FCC from Congress, federal agencies, and civil society to extend the application deadline, the FCC let the window expire on September 2, 2020.

Access Now previously supported extending the Tribal Priority Window in a letter to the FCC, and fully endorses the new legislation.

“Indigenous populations have long had a difficult time gaining access to high-speed internet, and now that the pandemic has made an internet connection necessary for survival, it is even more important to get these populations online,” said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “This legislation would help address that issue and give Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations a fighting chance at reducing the digital divide.”

Without access to the internet, it is more challenging for Tribal groups to access information, job opportunities, and medical care, leaving them further behind.

“The FCC is abdicating its responsibility to make high-speed internet accessible for all,” said Jennifer Brody, Legislative Manager at Access Now. “This is a slap in the face for at-risk communities like Indigenous populations who are struggling to get by during the ongoing unemployment crisis.”