New Research Focuses on Internet Infrastructure on Tribal Lands

Date: 3 Mar 2021 | posted in: Press Release | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

New research from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative is focused on broadband access and Internet infrastructure on tribal lands — areas which suffer from the least connectivity in the nation. There are two key pieces of research: 

  1. The first comprehensive list of tribally owned broadband projects in Indian Country. No one has assembled a list of all tribal-owned networks in the U.S. until now.  Our resource includes an interactive web map of the locations in which these networks offer service, brief descriptions of each of the projects, and links to many other resources. The goal is to have — for the first time — a comprehensive resource for Native Nations to consult when considering a broadband project.

  2. A case study report that delves into the experiences of four Native Nations as they constructed their own Internet service providers. The case studies examine the unique challenges Native Nations confront as they seek to build Internet infrastructure and address the digital divide while also retaining the tribal sovereignty that is essential to Native Nations’ identity and heritage. As the report states, “Native Nations are sovereign over their data, and have the obligation to protect that information and use it for the betterment of tribal citizens.” The case study shows how four tribes — the Coeur d’Alene, the Nez Perce, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe — tackle these issues as they seek to construct this essential piece of infrastructure. 

Each section of the report contains key takeaways that other tribes could use and learn from. The report also pulls these individual case studies together for comprehensive key lessons that Native Nations, lending institutions, and the federal government can use to improve the process for implementing tribal ISP’s, which include:

  • Improving Access to Capital. Native Nations do not have the same access to capital as municipalities or as private Internet service providers. Due to that fact, lending institutions should address their processes for lending to Native Nations to determine how to better support network projects, and the federal government should regularly evaluate funding opportunities for network projects by Native Nations. 
  • Avoiding Single-Purpose Funding. Federal funding is often limited to a single purpose, such as connecting Indian Health Services facilities or schools & libraries, which tends to create Internet “silos” rather than broad access.
  • Recognizing the Preparation Needed to Take Advantage of Opportunities. Native Nations that have already started projects or have plans to start projects can easily jump on new funding opportunities if they have a core team of network professionals ready and waiting for the next funding opportunity.
  • Respecting Native Nations’ Right to Spectrum. The FCC should not lease licenses to spectrum over any Native Nations to non-native entities. Spectrum should be treated as a natural resource, and the FCC should recognize Native Nations’ autonomy in determining how to use spectrum for Internet access.
  • Recognizing the Important Role of Tribal Employment Rights Offices. The Tribal Employment Rights Offices provide a value often overlooked by lending institutions or the federal government by making sure that training and hiring is done locally and that the community is benefiting from the new job opportunities that a network project brings.

 The report, Building Indigenous Future Zones: Four Tribal Broadband Case Studies, is available here.