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Biden administration launches $1bn grant for broadband on tribal lands

Only half of households on US tribal lands have any kind of internet service. Biden’s $1bn grant proposal hopes to bring digital inclusion, telehealth, and distance learning to all natives who want it.

The digital divide between those living in major conurbations and those within tribal lands has stunted America’s push for an equal opportunity society for generations.

Estimates from the US Commerce Department claim only half the nation’s native communities are connected to some form of broadband, while several remote areas lack even the most basic cell phone reception.

In a time where internet services are not just important but essential, thanks to social complications imposed by Covid, those under-connected are being under-served on multiple fronts.

It’s for this reason that Joe Biden and his administration are pledging to improve broadband infrastructure for all native communities outside of mainland America – provided they want it.

Over the next year, native Americans, Alaskans, and Hawaiians will be eligible to apply for a slice of a $1bn USD grant to support what is being called a ‘digital inclusion’ drive.

This will involve the installation and maintenance of cellular infrastructure and internet in off-grid areas. The mission objective, to bolster workplace development, telehealth, and remote learning – and to close the digital disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’

On that last point, industry shakeups spurred by the pandemic previously closed schools and colleges across the country for months. In that time, students from tribal lands had to travel

miles to find a strong enough connection to attend remote lessons, as more than 20% of this population have literally no broadband access whatsoever at home.

While this issue applies to hundreds of communities outside mainland America, Indian Country tribes are among those least connected according to reports.

‘For generations, a lack of infrastructure investment in Indian Country has left Tribes further behind in the digital divide than most areas of the country,’ Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

‘We have a responsibility as a country to build infrastructure that will fuel economic development, keep communities safe, and ensure everyone has opportunities to succeed.’

The sizable grant total on offer comes by way of the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which will outsource feasible projects to accommodate fast internet speeds in tricky remote areas.

Convincing service providers to erect cell towers or bury fiber-optic cables in sparsely populated areas has been notoriously difficult over the last few years, but government enforced action could be vital in finally ending this digital disparity.

This progress comes shortly after Congress’ ‘Broadband Benefit’ scheme passed in December, which allows lower-income households to knock $50 USD off their internet bill each month. This covid relief program will reportedly work in tandem with the grants to make connections more affordable in tribal areas too.

The NTAI will be holding webinars to inform the public – and potential tech clients – about the grants on offer throughout June 16th and 17th, so keep an eye out.

Hopefully America, the ‘Land of Opportunity,’ can start living up to its name in the near future.