South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
11:55 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Madam President.
Good morning to everyone. Secretary Gina Raimondo, Secretary Deb Haaland, I want to thank you both, on behalf of the President and myself, for your leadership.
I have watched closely as you have taken the helm at the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior, respectively, and I see how dedicated you have been throughout your careers to improving the lives of the American people — of all people. Thank you.
And thank you, President Shannon Holsey, for that kind introduction. Our nation-to-nation relationship is of utmost importance to me and to President Joe Biden.
And here’s the truth: Indigenous communities have shaped our nation throughout our history. Native Americans have defended our nation as members of the military, built up our nation as entrepreneurs and educators, enriched our nation as artists and academics, and kept our nation safe by providing access to the COVID-19 vaccines.
And yet, we know that disparities — deep disparities — persist in Tribal communities: disparities in pay for Native American women, disparities in education for Native American students, disparities in healthcare for Native American families, barriers to voting for members of Tribal Nations, and barriers to affordable and accessible high-speed Internet on Tribal lands.
Last month, I met with several community leaders to discuss the need for high-speed Internet in their communities. They came from urban and rural areas, and Indian Country. They represent parents, students, farmers, and Tribal leaders.
In fact, Dr. Aaron Payment, the Chairperson of the Sault Saint Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, joined me that day. He described how broadband infrastructure runs through Tribal lands as well as other private and federal lands, which makes it difficult for Tribes to ensure high-speed Internet gets to their members.
In fact, he said tribes have — and I quote — “checkerboard reservations across rural Internet deserts,” meaning it’s just not straight through. In fact, according to Chairperson Payment, across his Tribe’s service areas, nearly 40 percent of people lack access to high-speed Internet — 40 percent. And the lack of reliable access has resulted in a lack of vital services.
And we know that. Almost everyone through the pandemic has understood that access to Internet creates access to services. So, lack of access to services means a lack of access to vital — vital needs that families and individuals have.
And then, compounding the disparities that persist — the disparities that existed before — compounded by what we saw during the pandemic. And, of course, what we must do then going forward, understanding this is not just an intellectual conversation about access to technology; it’s about access to education, it’s about access to healthcare.
So Chairman Payment said that tribes are being left behind, and he’s right, and we must do something about that. And that is why we are here today.
In December of 2020, Democrats and Republicans in Congress worked together to pass COVID-19 relief legislation. And I was in the Senate at the time, and it was abundantly clear that broadband infrastructure had to be part of the bill. Why? Well, it was probably obvious: Because it was abundantly clear that the pandemic had accelerated the digital divide.
Just think about it: As some Americans have been able to connect to high-speed Internet for school and for health and for work, and to run their businesses and see their families, many others across the country, including those in rural and Tribal communities, have indeed been left behind. In fact, one in three Americans who live in rural areas and on Tribal lands lack access to high-speed Internet.
So, Congress worked together, as it should, across aisles and chambers to include nearly $1 billion for Tribal broadband infrastructure programs in our bill. And today, I am proud to announce that those funds are available for use. Thanks to the great work of Secretary Raimondo and the Department of Commerce, Tribes are now eligible for grants that will help improve access to high-speed Internet on Tribal lands.
These funds can be put toward laying down fiber-optic cables — and that’s jobs. They can be put toward digital-literacy programs so that people know how to get the most out of the Internet, because let’s be clear: You can have access to Internet — it can be affordable — but if you don’t know how to maximize its use, then that means we’re not maximizing the potential that it has to help individuals and families.
And these resources can also be put toward apprenticeships and job training for line installers and fiber splicers and equipment installers. So, these are the jobs that are being created, but also the skills that will be developed, and our initiative supports that skills development.
And let’s not forget: These funds are in addition to the American Rescue Plan’s historic investment in our Tribal Nations — the largest made in our country’s history. And the President and I are particularly proud of that. Our nation is making significant progress in fulfilling our government’s obligations to Tribal Nations.
At the same time, I want to be clear about this round of funding for broadband infrastructure: It is a down payment on the work we must do. We must keep going until we connect every American household.
With the American Jobs Plan, President Joe Biden and I are determined to get to 100 percent coverage — meaning everyone gets covered. Our plan would create good jobs, building up world-class broadband infrastructure in every community.
It would increase competition and reduce costs so that every American — no matter where they live, no matter how much
they can pay — would be able to access high-speed Internet at home.
This is fundamentally how we create good jobs and economic opportunity. This is how we help our students succeed, our small businesses thrive, and our nation compete in the 21st century. And we can get this done. So, today’s announcement is proof of that.
In December, Congress worked together to expand broadband infrastructure in rural areas and on Tribal lands. Now, Congress must work together again to bring high-speed Internet to every American.
So, I’ll end today with one last point that was made by Chairperson Payment. He said that, during the pandemic, folks who were battling opioid addiction, including his own niece, struggled to get the treatment they need.
And when COVID-19 hit, the help they had come to rely on at Tribal healthcare centers — well, it was gone in an instant. And they needed to be able to get online to access that care. But a lack of Internet access meant the difference, in many cases, between recovery or addiction, between life and death.
America, high-speed Internet is a lifeline. And there is work left to do to ensure that we are all connected. So, let’s celebrate this announcement today, and then let’s get back to work tomorrow.
And thank you. And now, I’m going to hand it over to Secretary Gina Raimondo.
END 12:03 P.M. EDT