Indianz.Com > News > Native Sun News Today: Tribes take steps to bridge digital divide
ernest weston
Ernest Weston Jr. Courtesy photo
Internet will bring badly needed jobs to reservation
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Native Sun News Today Health & Environment Editor

PINE RIDGE – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) notified the Oglala Sioux and 153 other tribes on October 23 that they succeeded in obtaining licenses to provide advanced wireless internet services, creating unprecedented prospects for Indian Country.

“We’ll see in the coming years how this is going to change our communities,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe Planning Office Program Manager Ernest Weston Jr. “I’m really excited for this opportunity because we have something very big here and we need to be very deliberate,” Weston told the Native Sun News Today.

On tribal lands, only 65 percent of the population has access to broadband, according to MuralNet, a non-profit company that is providing consultation to tribes on the FCC’s Rural Tribal Priority list. Half of tribal rural households don’t even have access to a fixed wireless internet provider, which is over twice the rate of their non-tribal counterparts, MuralNet says.

On February 2, the agency began offering tribal governments complementary licensing of the radio airwave communication spectrum’s 2.5 GHz band of mobile and digital signal previously reserved for educational institutions.

On September 15, the FCC notified the Oglala Sioux Tribe and 156 other applicants that they qualified for license consideration after the agency’s Rural Tribal Window closed September 2.

In announcing the granting of the licenses October 23, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called them “a major step forward in our efforts to close the digital divide on tribal lands.” Pai recognized that “few communities face the digital connectivity challenges faced by rural tribes.”

He said he has “seen first-hand the connectivity difficulties facing Native Nations.” By prioritizing tribal control over access to the Educational Broadband Service range, “We are ensuring that tribes can quickly access spectrum to connect their schools, homes, hospitals, and businesses,” he said.

The agency now is distributing the 2.5 GHz band licenses to tribal communities. To take advantage of the offer, licensees must put their shares of the spectrum to use.

Two years from now, licensees must submit evidence that they are providing service coverage to 50 percent of the population in their license area.

This FCC stipulation means that 50 percent of the population in the service area must be able to access the service; it does not require a 50 percent adoption rate.

Five years after the license is granted, licensees must show that they are providing service coverage to 80 percent of the population.

If licensees lease their spectrum shares, then the service provided by lessees will be counted towards the buildout requirement.

The license the Oglala Sioux Tribe obtained covers 2.7 million acres, one of the largest geographical areas of those granted. It stretches across the counties of Oglala Lakota, Bennett and Jackson, reaching to the original boundaries of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

In tooling up for the licensure, Weston’s office surveyed the connectivity needs of the reservation and targeted 12 communities “that don’t have access to broad band.”

They are Red Shirt Table, Batesland, Wakpamni Area, Hilse, Potato Creek, North Allen, Yellow Bear, American Horse Creek, North Manderson, Georgetown, Lakeside, and Gooseneck.

“In these communities we’re kind of pressed for time because equipment will need to be purchased with CARES Act dollars,” Weston said.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to state and tribal governments is only applicable to expenses incurred since the pandemic outbreak March 1 through the end of December.


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