Mohawk Networks LLC, owned by the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Tewathahonni Corporation, has built a 68-mile fiber network in order to improve broadband service on its homelands in New York. Photo courtesy Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe

Tribal broadband in focus with hearing and summit in nation's capital

The dismal state of broadband in tribal communities will be the focus of a pair of events in Washington, D.C., this week and the next.

According to a May 2019 report from the Federal Communications Commission, only 46.6 percent of rural, tribal areas have access to high-speed internet. That pales in comparison to 73.3 percent of other rural parts of the United States.

Similarly, while almost the entire nation has access to high speed mobile service, Indian Country continues to lag behind, with fewer carriers willing to provide critical cellular phone and cellular data coverage to the first Americans.

“There are communities across the United States that are still waiting to catch up with 21st century technology,” said Tara Sweeney, a Trump administration appointee who serves as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, the federal agency with the most responsibilities in Indian Country.

Jacob Burk, a technician for North Country Broadband Inc., a subsidiary of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s broadband company Mohawk Networks LLC, is seen working on a fiber network in Massena, New York. Photo courtesy Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe

To help draw attention to the disparity as well as promote solutions, Interior is hosting a National Tribal Broadband Summit at its headquarters next Monday and Tuesday. The event will feature key federal officials, tribal leaders and other stakeholders.

"This summit is a key opportunity to engage the private sector and make the business case for investing in Indian Country," said Sweeney, who is Inupiat from Alaska, one of the many undeserved broadband areas.

Ahead of the summit, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is holding an oversight hearing this Wednesday. The focus is a recent Government Accountability Office report which found that the FCC isn't enough to improve broadband service in tribal communities.

"In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission reported that an estimated 35 percent of Americans living on tribal lands lack access to broadband services, compared to 8 percent of all Americans," the GAO report stated.

The report was the third in a series from the GAO. All focused on barriers to broadband in Indian Country.

“Access to broadband communications furthers economic development, educational achievement, and public health and safety,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said last October when the panel held an oversight hearing on the two prior GAO reports.

“As of December 2016, 35.4 percent of tribal residents lacked access to fixed broadband services, compared to 7.7 percent of the rest of the U.S. population," Hoeven said.

This week's hearing takes place at 2:30pm Eastern on Wednesday in Room 628 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. The witness list follows:

MR. ANDREW VON AH, Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Washington, D.C.

MR. DON STOCKDALE, Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, Washington, D.C.

MS. BELINDA NELSON, Chairperson, Gila River Telecommunications, Inc., Chandler, AZ

MS. KIMBALL SEKAQUAPTEWA, Chief Technology Director, Santa Fe Indian School, Santa Fe, NM

The agenda for the National Tribal Broadband Summit, taking place September 23-24 at the Main Interior Building, 1849 C ST NW, follows:

September 23, 2019
8:00 AM - Registration

9:00 AM - Welcome & Opening Remarks
Joe Garcia, Head Councilman, Ohway Owingeh
Doug Hoelscher, Director, White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, US Department of the Interior

9:30 AM - Impact of Broadband in Native Communities
Ajit Pai, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
Kate MacGregor, Deputy Chief of Staff, exercising the Authority of the Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
Tyler Scribner, Policy Analyst, National Congress of American Indians
Kimball Sekaquaptewa, Chief Technology Director, Santa Fe Indian School, New Mexico
Nancy Weiss, General Counsel, Institute of Museum and Library Services
Nicole Umayam, Digital Inclusion Librarian, State Library of Arizona
Joseph Grogan, Director, Domestic Policy Council

10:30 AM - Panel: Key Elements of Successful Broadband Deployment & Adoption
Moderator: Ann Tracy, MLIS of Treacy Information Service and Broadband Engagement Team for Blandin Foundation
Tyler Scribner, Policy Analyst, National Congress of American Indians
Kimball Sekaquaptewa, Chief Technology Director, Santa Fe Indian School, New Mexico
Nicole Umayam, Digital Inclusion Librarian, State Library of Arizona

11:30 AM - Lunch on your own

1:00 PM - Building a Community Broadband Roadmap
Jean Rice, Senior Broadband Program Specialist, National Telecommunications & Information Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
Discover the steps to take to build a broadband roadmap. The session is based on NTIA' s Planning a Community Broadband Roadmap. The Toolkit's goal is to help tribes expand broadband access locally to create jobs, improve educational opportunities, promote economic development, spur private investment, and facilitate the delivery of essential social services to their citizens. The steps that will be covered are designed to foster a common broadband vision, prioritize needs and interests, and catalyze stakeholder commitment to invest in the needed physical infrastructure, organizational capacity, and human and capital assets.

2:00 PM - Coffee & Networking Break

2:30 PM - Breakout Sessions
Whether you are looking for best practices in building partnerships, learning about the latest technologies for broadband access in rural communities, looking for funding opportunities, or understanding how to leverage your new connectivity to protect and preserve culture – Explore this series of breakout sessions.
Broadband Engineering Fundamentals - Connectivity Solutions
Broadband and Public Safety - Social & Economic Wellbeing
From Gown to Town: How Higher Ed is Leveraging Technology to Deliver Workforce Development Opportunities for Place Bound Workers - Social & Economic Wellbeing
Improving Tribal Education and Health through Distance Learning and Telemedicine - Funding Broadband
Workshop: Broadband 101 for Tribal Libraries - Planning & Implementation
Making Opportunity Zones Work on Trust Land - Funding Broadband

3:30 PM - Breakout Sessions
How to Leverage E-Rate to Bring Broadband to your Community - Community Engagement & Partnerships
Achieving a Connected Arctic: Impacts of the Multi-Year Plan to Bring Broadband to the Villages of the Arctic North Slope - Connectivity Solutions
NTUA & Commnet: Partnerships that Succeed - Community Engagement & Partnerships
Rights of Way the Right Way - Planning & Implementation
Preserving Native Languages - Protect & Preserve Culture
USDA Program for Broadband Infrastructure - Funding Broadband

4:30 PM - Closing Remarks
Chad Rupe, Administrator, Rural Utilities Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

September 24, 2019
9:00 AM - Welcome & Keynote Address
Dr. Aaron A. Payment, Chairperson, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew, Director, Institute of Museum and Library Sciences
Senator Martha McSally, Arizona

9:30 AM - Breakout Sessions
Different Approaches to get the Broadband Infrastructure Your Tribe Needs - Funding Broadband
5G: The Next Generation of Wireless Networks and the Benefits They Will Bring - Connectivity Solutions
The Power of Broadband Partnerships - Community Engagement & Partnerships
Using Broadband Data to Accelerate Community Planning - Planning & Implementation
Private Sector Engagement & Public-Private Partnership - Community Engagement & Partnerships

10:30 AM - Breakout Sessions
Microgrids and Resiliency for Broadband Infrastructure - Connectivity Solutions
Mind the Gap: Mapping Federal Lands and Telecommunications Infrastructure - Planning & Implementation
The Federal Universal Service Schools and Libraries (E-Rate) and Rural Health Care (RHC) Programs - Funding Broadband
Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) Bank Financing for Rural Broadband Initiatives - Funding Broadband
Spectrum Opportunities – Federal Communications Commission 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window- Opportunity for Tribes - Connectivity Solutions

11:30 AM - Connectivity Marketplace & Lunch on your own

1:30 PM - Breakout Sessions
Bridging the Digital Divide with Diversified Funding & Partnerships - Community Engagement & Partnerships
Broadband in Indian Country - Planning & Implementation
Broadband: Breaking the Digital Divide - Connectivity Solutions
Developing Your Broadband Roadmap Workshop - Planning & Implementation

2:30 PM - Breakout Sessions
Leveraging Connectivity for Cultural Education and Engagement - Protect & Preserve Culture
Focusing STEM Learning on Solving Health Challenges in Native Communities - Social & Economic Wellbeing
Federal Resources and Support to Advance Telehealth for Tribal Communities - Social & Economic Wellbeing
Verizon Network Solutions in Rural Communities - Connectivity Solutions

3:30 PM - Plenary Presentation
Allyson Mitchell, General Manager, Mohawk Networks
In this presentation, you’ll discover how the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in Akwesasne, a community that is dissected between the U.S. and Canadian border, used a combination of grant funds and tribal investment to build a fiber optic network for their residents and businesses, driving a new economy that has impacted the entire community. Mohawk Networks, LLC is in its third-year of a start-up and the General Manager will discuss lessons learned, the importance of community engagement, opportunities, and the road to sustainability.

4:30 PM - Closing Remarks
Lance Fisher, Northern Cheyenne
Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice
“GAO Report on Tribal Access to Spectrum: Promoting Communications Services in Indian Country.” (September 18, 2019)

Government Accountability Office Tribal Broadband Reports
BROADBAND INTERNET: FCC's Data Overstate Access on Tribal Lands (September 7, 2018)
TRIBAL BROADBAND: Few Partnerships Exist and the Rural Utilities Service Needs to Identify and Address Any Funding Barriers Tribes Face (September 28, 2018)
TRIBAL BROADBAND: FCC Should Undertake Efforts to Better Promote Tribal Access to Spectrum (November 14, 2018)

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