Improving the Internet Connectivity and Spectrum Available to First Nations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dominic Watahomigie logging onto Coconino College
from home and talking to a collaborator with student
worksheets next to him
Dominic Watahomigie is also a Havasupai tribal member who works at Head Start. He wants to continue taking classes at Coconino College to get his Associate degree and then get certified in accounting for Head Start. His grandmother recently retired from teaching at Havasupai Elementary School and was the last faculty tribal member at that school. Giving more tribal members easy access to degree programs and teaching certification is pivotal for preserving the Havasupai’s language and culture and the engagement of students.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States of America will be opening up new licensing of the 2.5 GHz Band for the first time since 1996, affecting many rural areas primarily west of the Mississippi River. Previously, this band was reserved for educational uses. The current FCC proposal creates priority windows for current licensees, rural Native nations and educational institutions before sending the spectrum to auction. 

The People-Centered Internet (PCI) coalition has been working with Native Tribes to assist with Internet connectivity. We support the ideal that Native nations should be granted a local priority-filing window to obtain spectrum before other entities, including current licensees seeking to expand. We also support the ideals that geographical service areas should be marked by reservation boundaries rather than census tracts or counties and during the local filing window, Native nations should have the option of acquiring all available channels in the 2.5 GHz band on their respective reservation lands. 

Currently tribal reservations are the least Internet-connected places in America which stunts economic, healthcare, and educational opportunities provided by broadband where it is needed the most. Expanding access to the 2.5 GHz band will also help federal government to fulfill its trust responsibilities to sovereign Native nations while strengthening tribal self-determination. Raising these issues and making sure Native nations are given priority is important to achieving a more People-Centered Internet for all. The entire proposed rule and comment submission are available here.

Last March, the Havasupai Nation was granted special temporary authority to use the 2.5 GHz band. Since their reservation is at the base of the Grand Canyon and is generally considered the most remote community in the United States, Internet connectivity is all the more important. The Tribe worked with Mural Net to build a low-profile LTE network and connect homes via Wi-Fi hotspots. Within a few days of getting permission to use the spectrum and with less than $10k of donated labor and equipment, members of the tribe had broadband in their homes and were using their Internet access to take online classes at Northern Arizona University. 

We are hopeful that through the activities of our partners, together we can close the digital gap and improve Internet access for Native nations.

The 2018 Indigenous Community Summit will be held October 10-12 at the Midnight Sun Recreation Center in Inuvik Canada. Organizers are the Internet Society, University of Alberta North, First Mile Connectivity Consortium, and Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. Community network managers/operators, Indigenous-owned Internet service providers, community members, researchers, policy makers and Indigenous leadership are invited to discuss ways to ensure Alaska Native, American Indian, Inuit, First Nation and Métis communities have affordable, high-quality and sustainable Internet access, and how it can support social and economic development.

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