Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) addresses the Friends of National Service Awards in Washington, D.C., on February 11, 2020. Photo: Rep. Deb Haaland
Native lawmaker introduces ‘Broadband for All’
Native Sun News Today Health & Environment Editor

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WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission offer to give tribes complimentary licensing of broadband falls short of the incentive needed to provide equal access for Native and other rural constituencies, sponsors of the “Broadband for All Resolution of 2020” said in introducing the legislation to Congress on September 23.

“Everyone in this country deserves access to reliable high-speed internet, especially during a pandemic, but I’ve heard from families in my district and across the country that internet is too expensive or completely unavailable to them and the FCC hasn’t taken the right steps to connect everyone no matter their background or where they live,” said Pueblo Indian U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland.

The resolution [H.Res.1144] declares, “limiting access to broadband internet is a human rights violation.” It aims “to reaffirm basic civil and human rights protections so all people — especially low-income households, people of color, and those living in rural areas or on tribal lands — can access reliable broadband internet for basic daily activities,” according to its authors.

Haaland said it “will make sure kids don’t fall into the homework gap, workers can telework, families have access to telemedicine, and everyone can reach important information when they need it.”

A representative from New Mexico, Haaland is one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Sharice Davids of Kansas is the other.

California Rep. Ro Khanna, who joined Haaland to introduce the legislation, said internet access “should be a human right.” Despite the FCC’s mandate to increase broadband access, it has still failed to make it affordable, much less universal. That needs to change.” The U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution in 2016 calling on countries to bridge the digital divide.

According to the authors of the Congressional bill, the U.N. action “raised global awareness that internet is not only a luxury, but a necessity that must be protected to defend freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and basic global human rights standards since technology has become a modern global necessity.”

They noted, “Internet blackouts have encumbered the ability of people to peacefully assemble and hampered efforts to bring transparency to crackdowns on protests in democratic countries across the world.”

The Federal Communications Commission received more than 400 applications from tribes and their entities during the February 2 – September 2 submission period for them to qualify as licensees of their own shares of the wireless spectrum.

When the agency announced on September 15 that it had approved free licensing of 157 tribal government applications to take command of rural broadband internet services, it was just the beginning of challenges for licensees and others yet to be approved.

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