The Federal Communications Commission should consult with tribal leaders and enact a tribal priority for spectrum allocation, according to Loris Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Native Public Media.
Forty-one percent of Americans living on tribal lands lack access to broadband compared to 6 percent of total Americans, according to the FCC. Taylor said that this is why an extra initiative is needed to bring broadband to tribal lands.
“Deliver us from darkness,” Taylor said. “If given access to broadband, Native Americans will use the technology.”
Taylor said that tribes need to be treated better by including tribal lands in high-cost reforms and consulting with tribal leaders on new programs and infrastructure.
“It’s a matter of being invited to the table and not being able to eat,” said Taylor.
Taylor said that the FCC has the opportunity to be the first Federal agency to make an effort to formally consult with tribal nations while recognizing substantial rights. Taylor also said that the FCC needs to consult with each nation to get an accurate representation of opinions.
“One size does not fit all,” Taylor said.
Tribal leaders could have different opinions about the policies that affect their nations, according to Taylor.
Taylor said that the FCC’s Lifeline Policy reform has brought reduced costs for broadband to many people but it hasn’t affected tribal nations in a positive way.
However, Mignon Clyburn, commissioner of the FCC, said that she has helped connect many tribal nations using the Lifeline Reform.
“We firmly believe that we can achieve robust, affordable connectivity for all Americans within the next four years,” Clyburn said.
The Lifeline Policy was updated in 2016 to give low-income households access to broadband as well as telephone services at a cheap rate because of the necessity of the Internet to participate in the economy.
“Our responsibilities under the Communications Act require us to take steps…to prevent degradation of universal service and the division of our society…into information ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ ” Clyburn said in a statement. “Technologies may change, but the role that communications services play in bringing communities together and bridging divides, remains just as vital as it was in 1985.”
Taylor said that the misunderstandings surrounding the Lifeline Reform is an example of why the FCC should communicate with tribal leaders before a new initiative is announced to ensure that the policy will help their population.
Taylor said that tribal nations also need technical assistance and training in order to close the pervasive digital divide.
“There has to be a forthright and transparent working relationship with tribes,” Taylor said. “Digital inclusion means simply that–inclusion.”