Cantwell Bill to Improve Tribal Broadband, Bridge Digital Divide Passes Committee

Less than half of households on rural Tribal land have access to high-speed broadband

WASHINGTON, D.C. –   Today, legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) to expedite the deployment of affordable broadband service on Tribal lands passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs by voice vote. Cantwell, Udall, the Vice Chair of the committee, and Heinrich introduced the Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020 in February.

According to a report issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in May 2019, less than half of households in Indian Country have access to high-speed broadband service. This represents a nearly 27-point gap compared to non-Tribal rural areas. According to the same report, this gap only widens when compared to the country-wide average; 31 percent of households on Tribal lands lack access to high-speed broadband service compared to seven percent of Americans in non-Tribal areas.

“Indian Country has waited long enough for broadband. We need to do better. This legislation will help us do that,” Senator Cantwell said at today’s hearing.

The Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020 will:

  • Establish the Tribal Broadband Interagency Working Group to improve coordination across federal broadband programs and reduce deployment barriers;
  • Require that technical assistance be provided to interested, underserved Native communities to develop a broadband deployment plan;
  • Streamline the application process for federal grants to support the deployment of broadband services on Tribal lands;
  • Establish a Tribal Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee;
  • Set aside FCC and USDA funds for the benefit of broadband deployment on Tribal lands; and
  • Establish the Tribal Broadband Right-of-Way Pilot Program.

Senator Cantwell has long fought for more robust, efficient, and cost-effective broadband connectivity for communities throughout Washington state. In January, she introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that billions of dollars from a public auction of C-Band spectrum are invested to bridge the digital divide and enable next generation public safety services. In 2018, Cantwell helped secure $600 million in funding to boost rural broadband development, and before that she worked with the Makah Tribe and CenturyLink to bring broadband access to Neah Bay, one of the most remote parts of Washington state.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s remarks at the hearing is available HERE, and audio is available HERE.

The full text of the legislation can be found HERE.