OKLAHOMA CITY — Native American communities lag behind the rest of the country when it comes to broadband connectivity. Now, with the Affordable Connectivity Program, tribal nations will see funding for better internet access.
“So many of our Indigenous communities are isolated,” said Toni Tsatoke, a professor of Indigenous Studies. “And so, people are living in their separate communities. many times, in rural communities, so they don't have the same resources that others do living in larger metropolitan areas."
Studies show that Native Americans living on reservations or other tribal lands do not have access to affordable high-speed internet service.
“The first problem is really an opportunity,” said Cliff Agee, the president of telecommunications for Chickasaw Nation. “But the problem is people in rural America, rural Oklahoma, rural Chickasaw nation is that they really don't understand it.”
According to the American Indian Policy institute, 18% of tribal reservation residents have no internet access, while 33% rely on smartphones for internet service.
But even where broadband is available, the cost can be a barrier.
“If they see they have affordable broadband in these areas, they can set up a business and can promote their product online from sitting at their home in a 2,000 population community,” Agee said. “It's critical."
This is why Congress passed the Affordable Connectivity Act; it’s part of the $1 trillion infrastructure package. $14.2 billion will go toward providing broadband internet service to rural areas, including tribal lands.
Right now, people in those areas could be paying $100 or more a month, this will change that to $30 a month, and provide services in areas that didn’t have it before.
"Many people may think that a lot of these issues have been resolved and are things of the past,” Tsatoke said. “But we really have these ongoing issues that if it weren't for the internet that level awareness could not have been raised."
Just connecting these areas with broadband services can help with multiple problems for Native American communities. Some things it can help are with issues like telehealth access, teaching their Native language, and missing and murdered Indigenous people cases.
"That has been a critical thing: the use of social media networks people are creating groups and things like that for awareness but also just being part of that larger community,” Tsatoke said. “We are not just individuals living out here living our best lives. We are part of a larger community, and we stay connected that way."
Now, tribal nations across the country are applying for these grants, and hope all of this will improve their essential operations.