The Biden administration said it will set up a new Tribal communications and technology office, while the Commerce Department approved another $73 million of funding grants to expand broadband service on Tribal lands.
At its second Tribal Nations Summit on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, the administration announced creation of the Office of Indigenous Communications & Technology (OICT), which will be part of the Department of the Interior.
According to the White House, the new office will assist Tribal Nations and Tribal entities in managing, developing and maintaining broadband infrastructure, new electromagnetic spectrum leasing mechanisms, and in providing technical assistance for the establishment of wireless, digital, and technological projects on Tribal lands.
The office also will focus on development of new technological services to facilitate partnerships between Tribes and the tech industry for the advancement of Tribal self-governance initiatives, including: electronic vehicles; light detection and ranging used for mapping, surveying and other services; and opportunities for Indigenous participation in data science, coding, and software engineering.
Separately, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awarded more than $73 million in grants as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP). The nine new grants bring the program’s outlays to $1.655 billion awarded to 121 Tribal entities. Funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the grants will expand high-speed Internet service network deployment and digital skills training to improve access to education, jobs, and healthcare on Tribal lands.
“The Biden administration is committed to fostering meaningful partnerships with Tribal Nations, which have been vital to our goal of connecting everyone in America, including American Indians and Natives, with affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. “These grants – made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – highlight the Biden administration’s unprecedented commitment to closing the digital divide in Native communities.”
Tribes in six states – California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Nevada, and Washington – received grants.
According to NTIA, the projects funded by these awards will directly connect 3,107 unserved Native American households that previously had no connectivity to high-speed Internet, as well as businesses and anchor institutions. Additionally, the nine grants will create 49 new jobs. Additional grant awards will be announced on a rolling basis.