WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) partnered with the American Library Association (ALA) to host a panel on improving access to high-speed internet in Tribal and rural communities. The discussion featured Tribal librarians and rural telecom experts and focused on how broadband connectivity and telecommunications infrastructure in Tribal and rural regions advances education, provides economic opportunity and can close the digital divide. Over 80 percent of rural Tribal communities in New Mexico lack access to broadband internet.
The Tribal Connect Act received support from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a long-time champion of the FCC's E-rate program, and ALA President Jim Neal.
Senator Heinrich delivered the opening remarks and discussed the bipartisan Tribal Connect Act, a bill he introduced with U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to improve broadband infrastructure and connectivity in Indian Country. The bill would improve and increase access to the FCC's $4 billion schools and libraries universal service support program, known as E-rate, and establishes a $100 million Tribal E-rate pilot program for broadband access in Indian Country to tribes without libraries. While most of the nation's public libraries have received E-rate support, only an estimated 15 percent of Tribal libraries have received critical E-rate funds.
"I'm pleased to partner with the American Library Association to convene this important discussion on closing the digital divide in Indian Country and continue building the momentum for the Tribal Connect Act," said Senator Heinrich. "The Tribal Connect Act is an investment in broadband infrastructure and high-speed internet access in Indian Country so all of our students and children can compete on an even playing field and learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Connecting more Tribes to the E-rate program will strengthen broadband across rural New Mexico and improve education, boost the economy and increase public safety and civic engagement."
"As a longtime champion for the FCC's E-rate program and a daughter of a retired-librarian," said FCC Commissioner Clyburn, "I believe that robust broadband connectivity at community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries, helps to level the playing field. For those without home service, access to the information, resources and services needed to thrive in an increasingly digitally dependent society can be a game-changer that generates and enables sustainable social and economic growth. However, data shows that Tribal and rural communities are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to broadband connectivity which is essential when it comes to running businesses, finding jobs, advancing education, accessing telehealth services, or simply paying bills. This is why I wholeheartedly support Senator Heinrich's efforts to facilitate Tribal participation in the FCC's E-Rate program in a much-needed effort to jumpstart broadband connectivity in Tribal areas."
"For many people in Tribal and rural areas, the lack of high-speed internet access means that competing in today's economy is a steep climb and becoming steeper. Public libraries across America provide internet-enabled technologies and other resources to meet the needs of their communities, and yet Tribal and rural library broadband capacity currently falls short of the FCC's benchmarks set for U.S. home access. Improving access to the E-rate program is a strong start toward improving high-speed internet access to the least connected people in America. The American Library Association wholeheartedly supports the Tribal Connect Act and looks forward to advocating for its passage," said ALA President Jim Neal.
The panel was moderated by National Museum of the American Indian Librarian Elayne Silversmith and included Cynthia Aguilar, a librarian from Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico, Hannah Buckland, Director of Library Services at Leech Lake Tribal College (Minn.), Irene Flannery, Director of AMERIND Critical Infrastructure in New Mexico, and Kelly Wismer, Public Relations Manager at NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association.
The Tribal Connect Act is supported by the American Library Association, National Congress of American Indians, National India Education Association, AMERIND Risk, and the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums. Senator Heinrich consulted with the Pueblo library consortiums in New Mexico representing the Pueblos of Cochiti, Jemez, Zia, Santa Ana, San Felipe, and Santo Domingo before introducing the legislation.
Join the conversation on the Tribal Connect Act using the hashtag #TribalConnect.