Department of Commerce announces $146 million in awards through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, with another $1 billion in funding now available
In the 21st century, access to affordable, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury: American families need high-quality internet to do their jobs, participate in school, access health care, and stay connected. But far too many Tribal communities remain unconnected: by one definition, over 30 percent of the population on Tribal lands do not have access to broadband infrastructure that provides minimally adequate speeds.
The Biden-Harris Administration has set a clear goal of bringing affordable, reliable, high-speed internet to every American. To help make this goal a reality, President Biden secured a historic $65 billion investment to expand internet access through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and has mobilized additional resources from across the federal government, including programs created by the American Rescue Plan.
These investments are already making a difference in Tribal communities, bringing new internet service to Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian households and businesses. Through all of its work with Tribal communities, including broadband infrastructure programs, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to honoring the Nation-to-Nation relationship with Tribal governments, conducting robust tribal consultation, and investing in the resilience and prosperity of Tribal communities.
Today, the Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced $146 million in awards to bring high-speed internet to Tribal communities in New Mexico through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. Throughout August, NTIA will announce additional awards, totaling more than $500 million. Funding will serve Tribes across the country including in Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota, Arizona, California, and more states, in addition to today’s awards in New Mexico.
NTIA has also announced that it is making an additional $1 billion in funding available to Tribal communities. This $1 billion from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will fund additional Tribal broadband applications already submitted to NTIA, bringing the total available under the funding opportunity announced in June 2021 to $1.98 billion. NTIA received more than 300 applications during the application window for over $5 billion in requested funding, demonstrating the significant infrastructure needs in Tribal communities. Making an additional $1 billion available under the current funding opportunity will allow the Department of Commerce to quickly allocate these funds to communities in need, without requiring Tribes to reapply.
This additional $1 billion at NTIA comes on top of other funding for high-speed internet available to Tribal communities—including $1 billion in funding currently available through the Department of Agriculture’s Reconnect Program, as well as $100 million currently available through the Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund.
But making internet available is not enough: families must be able to afford service and have the skills, technology, and capacity to take advantage of the opportunities that the internet offers. That’s why the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $2.75 billion to promote digital equity and inclusion, aiming to ensure that all people and communities can reap the full benefits of the digital economy.
Tribal governments are ready to lead this work: 470 Tribes in 28 states – over 80 percent of federally-recognized Tribes – have indicated that they would like to participate in the Digital Equity Planning Grant program, the first phase of the digital equity programs. In the coming months, the Department of Commerce will work with Tribes to submit applications and then award funds to Tribes to develop digital equity plans to help their communities adopt and use high-speed internet.
Moving forward, the Administration will continue to invest in internet access and digital equity for Tribal communities. NTIA will develop another opportunity to apply for funding under the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Administration will coordinate resources across government to meet connectivity needs in Tribal communities. For example, NTIA and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate responsibilities for ensuring compliance with environmental, historic preservation, and cultural resources requirements in the program, bringing additional expertise and coordination to efforts to increase Tribal connectivity.
BIDEN-HARRIS ADMINISTRATION ACTIONS TO BRING HIGH-SPEED, AFFORDABLE INTERNET TO TRIBAL COMMUNITIES
Today’s announcement is part of a government-wide effort to deliver high-speed internet infrastructure to Tribal communities, create more low-cost internet service options, and address digital equity and inclusion needs to ensure that Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian families can take full advantage of the opportunities offered by internet service. Steps taken by the Administration in recent months include:
- In July, the Department of Agriculture announced nearly $117 million in rural broadband awards that will serve Native communities or Tribal lands. These funds through the ReConnect Program will bring fiber broadband infrastructure and affordable internet service to 4,300 people in Alaska, 1,000 people in Montana, and 200 people in Arizona. The ReConnect Program brings high-speed internet infrastructure to underserved rural communities. The Department of Agriculture recently announced that $1 billion is now available under the ReConnect Program, with applications accepted beginning on September 6th.
- The Department of the Treasury has awarded 87 Tribal governments $14.6 million from the Capital Projects Fund for projects to expand internet access and increase connectivity, and continues to review increasing Tribal applications. The Capital Projects Fund provides a total of $100 million to Tribal governments for capital projects that increase access to work, education, and health services, including through reliable, affordable high-speed internet access. For example, some Tribal governments are using these funds to help families or local libraries purchase laptops, install public WiFi access points, or expand community centers that offer computer labs and internet access. Treasury will make additional awards on a rolling basis. Tribal governments are each entitled to an allocation of about $167,500 but must claim their funds by submitting a request for funding to the Treasury Department. In response to Tribal leader feedback, Treasury provided a second extension of the submission deadline to October 14, 2022.
- In July, the Department of Commerce announced over $10 million in grants to expand high-speed internet to minority-serving colleges and universities. The Connecting Minority Communities Program expands internet access at Tribal Colleges and Universities, Minority-Serving Institutions, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities by supporting the purchase of broadband internet access, eligible equipment, or hiring and training information technology personnel. So far, the program has awarded $2.9 million to Diné College to improve educational and economic opportunity for the Navajo Nation and $1.9 million to Tohono O’odham Community College to address the lack of broadband access, adoption, and equity at the college and in the surrounding anchor communities in Tohono O’odham Nation. The program will announce additional awards on a rolling basis.
- Over 185,000 households on Tribal lands are saving up to $75 per month on their internet bills through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, ACP provides a discount of up to $75 per month on internet bills for households on Tribal lands (or a discount of up to $30/month for other households), as well as a one-time $100 discount on a connected device. To further lower costs, President Biden and Vice President Harris announced commitments from 20 internet service providers across the country to offer high-speed plans that are fully covered by the ACP—meaning millions of working families can now get high-speed internet without paying a dime.
Households are eligible if they earn 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or less (currently $55,500 for a family of four) or if they already participate in certain federal programs, including a wide range of Tribal assistance programs. Specifically, households participating in the following Tribal assistance programs are automatically eligible for ACP: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (if the household meets the relevant income qualifying standard), Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
While millions of households across the country have signed up to save, many more are eligible. Households can check their eligibility, find a fully-covered plan, and sign up at GetInternet.gov.
Moving forward, the Biden-Harris Administration will continue to take bold, concerted action to expand internet access and digital equity in Tribal communities.
- Throughout the month of September, the Biden-Harris Administration will host the 2022 Tribal Broadband Summit. The virtual summit – coordinated and hosted jointly by the Department of the Interior, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Department of Agriculture, and NTIA – will provide an opportunity for leaders across the broadband development ecosystem to share best practices, new ideas, and lessons learned from their experience of bringing high-speed internet to Tribal communities. Federal partners, Tribal and Native Hawaiian Community broadband industry experts, and other participants will discuss how to coordinate and make the best use of federal funding and how to plan for the future of digital economies on Tribal Lands and across Native Hawaiian communities.
- Additional investments in internet access and digital equity through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will build on the progress to date. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law establishes a $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program to expand high-speed internet access to areas currently unserved or underserved by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs. State action plans for how to use BEAD funds must be informed by collaboration with Tribal governments, including through Tribal consultation, if there are Tribal Nations located within the state.
- The Federal Communications Commission is also taking action to prevent digital discrimination, under a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law requirement for rules to ensure all people benefit from equal access to broadband internet service. The FCC launched work on these rules in March.
The Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to Indian Country goes well beyond high-speed internet. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes a historic investment of $13 billion in dedicated funding for Tribes, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars that Tribes can apply for on a competitive basis. To date, more than $2.6 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding has been announced and is headed to Tribal communities. This year alone, Tribes will receive more than $800 million in set aside funds for transportation to invest in roads, bridges, and public transit and over $150 million set aside for clean water. By the time implementation is complete, the law will have made the largest single investment in Tribal infrastructure ever in United States history.