Biden-Harris Administration announces $73 million in broadband grants for tribal lands
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe was awarded $44 million in federal funding to deploy high-speed internet to nearly 1,800 Native American households, 16 community institutions, and 14 businesses. This was made possible with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a total of $73 million was awarded to nine tribal entities in latest round of “Internet for All” grants. The announcement came on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit held at the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C.
“The Southern Ute Tribal Council made the deployment of affordable, high-quality, high-speed broadband internet on the Reservation a top priority,” Southern Ute Chairman Melvin J. Baker said. “The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is honored to be awarded this funding and with this grant we can now focus on making this important goal a reality and truly bridge the digital divide that exists within our tribal lands.”
“The money that we will receive from this award will go to connecting our Southern Ute tribal members and other Native Americans living within our reservation,” Baker said. “It will also set the stage to enable improved access for non-native residents, schools, municipalities, and businesses that will benefit from the deployment of our new broadband infrastructure.”
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awarded nine grants as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP). These new grants, totaling more than $73 million, bring the total of the program to $1.655 billion awarded to 121 Tribal entities. With funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, these grants will expand high-speed Internet service network deployment and digital skills training to improve access to education, jobs, and healthcare on tribal lands.
Tribes in six states received grants – California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Nevada, and Washington.
These awards are part of the Biden Administration’s commitment to nation-to-nation engagement and an effort to connect everyone in America, including Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service. The funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which included $65 billion to connect every household to high-speed, affordable broadband.
“The Biden administration is committed to fostering meaningful partnerships with Tribal Nations, which have been vital to our goal of connecting everyone in America, including American Indians and Natives, with affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “These grants – made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – highlight the Biden administration’s unprecedented commitment to closing the digital divide in Native communities.”
The projects funded by these awards will directly connect 3,107 unserved Native American households that previously had no connectivity to high-speed Internet as well as businesses and anchor institutions. Additionally, the nine grants will create 49 new jobs. Additional grant awards will be announced on a rolling basis.
“We started on this lengthy process over a year ago. We submitted our application September 1st, 2021, and now we are set to embark on this next phase of building out the broadband utility within the Reservation,” explained Jeff Engman, Chief Information Officer with Southern Ute Shared Services. “Phase I has been ongoing and is 81% complete. This phase is the backbone of the whole broadband network we are creating. The first phase was started due to a grant that the State of Colorado created by House Bill 21-1289.”
Phase II is funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
“The digital inclusion grant program was created for the purpose of advancing the state’s digital inclusion priorities and grant money was awarded to the Indian tribes for the purpose of deploying additional infrastructure on tribal lands and providing devices to Indian tribes. To build out infrastructure development to support Tribal Council operations, essential services, access to telehealth, ability to work remotely, and participate in remote learning on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.”
“Just being able to provide fiber service to Tribal and Native residents throughout the reservation, gives us better communications,” emphasized Delbert Cuthair, Broadband and Digital Equity Manager with Southern Ute Shared Services. By providing better fiber service, the cellular coverage in the area will also improve. The proposed broadband infrastructure will also help with emergency service responders, who have historically had a communication deficit in remote areas of the Reservation; emergency responders would often lose signal en route to their calls. The planned upgrades to regional broadband infrastructure will provide service coverage across the Reservation.
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is a nearly $3 billion grant program and part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Internet for All Initiative. The funds are made available from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law ($2 billion) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 ($980 million).
Nearly $2 billion in funding is being made available as part of the Notice of Funding Opportunity announced in June 2021. An additional Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for $1 billion in funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be announced in the coming months. NTIA held three Tribal Consultations with tribal leaders to solicit their input on the upcoming NOFO.
Hickenlooper was part of the bipartisan group of 22 senators who negotiated and wrote the law. “Through the broadband working group, Hickenlooper helped deliver the largest federal investment in broadband access and affordability of our generation,” according to a statement from the Office of Hickenlooper. In June 2021, Bennet introduced the bipartisan Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act to provide billions in flexible funding to states, including $2 billion to Tribal governments. The BRIDGE Act which was later incorporated into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. To date, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has delivered over $1.1 billion to Colorado, of the nearly $3 billion in funds announced already and more expected.
“When we said the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law would connect every house to fast, affordable internet, we meant every house,” said Hickenlooper. “Tribes have waited too long for connectivity. That changes today.”
“Tribal communities too often find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide,” said Bennet. “With this funding, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe can bring their families, farms, businesses, and schools online, help communities within the reservation boundaries improve their broadband services, and begin to close that digital gap.”
Internet for All
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes a historic $65 billion investment to expand affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access in communities across the U.S. NTIA recently launched a series of new high-speed Internet grant programs funded by the law that will build high-speed Internet infrastructure across the country, create more low-cost high-speed Internet service options, and address the digital equity and inclusion needs in our communities.
Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward Internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands. Visit AffordableConnectivity.gov to learn more.
For more information on the Biden-Harris Administration’s high-speed Internet service programs as well as quotes from the awardees, please visit InternetforAll.gov.