Heinrich Introduces Bill To Remove Rigid Regulatory Burdens On Tribal Broadband Access

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) has introduced the Internet Development for Tribes Act, legislation that removes regulatory barriers for tribes to access the internet and invests in infrastructure necessary to access high-speed broadband in rural communities.

Senator Heinrich’s Internet Development for Tribes Act:

  • Invests $100 million in new technologies necessary to establish broadband networks in rural tribal communities.
  • Provides $25 million for technical assistance grants.
  • Removes regulatory barriers to accessing spectrum over tribal communities.
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to produce a report that identifies federal surplus stocks of broadband equipment.
  • Directs the transfer of available surplus equipment for disbursement among tribes.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to show the true impact of disparities that Indian Country has been facing – including the lack of access to high-speed internet. Unfortunately, an alarming percentage of rural tribal communities in New Mexico lack access to broadband internet, which means less access to educational, health, and career-related resources,” said Heinrich. “That is why I am introducing the Internet Development for Tribes Act to eliminate regulatory burdens standing in the way of tribal nations accessing the internet and invest in the infrastructure necessary to access high-speed broadband in rural communities. I will continue fighting to increase internet access in Indian Country and ensure that the FCC is held accountable to all communities in New Mexico.”

The FCC’s Rural Tribal Window allowed federally recognized tribal entities to apply for unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum. The 2.5 GHz band is suitable for both mobile coverage and broadband. Senator Heinrich has repeatedly called on the FCC to ensure that tribes can apply for this spectrum and access the internet.

The Internet Development for Tribes Act is supported by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the All Pueblo Council of Governors, and the Navajo Nation.

“It is critically important to remove and prevent any barriers to broadband deployment in Indian Country. This legislation will help tribal nations who accessed the 2.5 GHz spectrum band adapt to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 public health crisis through removal of regulatory restrictions. This bill will further help deploy this technology by providing technical assistance and funding the creation of much needed grant programs. NCAI is grateful to Senator Heinrich for introducing this legislation and for his leadership on this issue,” said Kevin J. Allis, CEO of the National Congress of American Indians.

“The All Pueblo Council of Governors knows first-hand the complex challenges that meaningful broadband development poses in relation to Indian Country. The lack of affordable high-speed Internet in many Pueblo communities continues to pose challenges across sectors of our Nations and continues to be critical in addressing urgent health and safety measures throughout this pandemic. Our Pueblo governments face significant barriers in building the requisite infrastructure to address this need. Urgently rising to meet these challenges requires immediate deployment of collaborative legislation and administrative actions to ensure all necessary connections are made and no gaps remain. Senator Heinrich’s bill is one of these key measures. His bill addresses critical needs around 2.5 GHz spectrum access and licensing – an invaluable and largely untapped resource for building sustainable broadband infrastructure and access capabilities in our Pueblo communities,” said Chairman J. Michael Chavarria of the All Pueblo Council of Governors.

“We thank Senator Heinrich for introducing the Internet Development for Tribes Act that seeks to close the digital divide by preserving tribal licenses to the 2.5 GHz spectrum and providing desperately needed funding for internet equipment and technical support," said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “It’s vitally important to the Navajo Nation that our students, businesses, and communities have the same opportunities to learn, work, and benefit from the connectivity that broadband provides to the rest of America.”

Read the full text of the bill here.