Cantwell, Udall, Heinrich Introduce Bill to Increase Tribal Broadband Access

WASHINGTON, D.C. –   U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, along with U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), introduced the Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020 to accelerate the deployment of broadband services to Tribal communities and bridge the digital divide many of them face. The bill would expedite the deployment of affordable broadband service on Tribal lands by coordinating and improving the effectiveness of federal resources.

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 fixed broadband service. This represents a nearly 27-point gap compared to non-Tribal rural areas. This gap only widens when compared to the country-wide average. According to the same report issued by the FCC, 31 percent of households on Tribal lands lack access to fixed high-speed broadband service, compared to seven percent of Americans in non-Tribal areas.

“In our 21st century economy, a reliable internet connection is a must. Closing the digital divide in Indian Country is critically important for the future of these communities – less than half of which currently have access to reliable broadband service. I am proud to be introducing a plan today to start addressing this shortfall immediately,” Senator Cantwell said.

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.

The full text of the legislation can be found HERE.