Addressing broadband disparities
Cisco recently participated in the biannual summit of the National Tribal Telecommunications Association (NTTA) that was held on the lands of the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona. The event was well attended by more than 200 Tribal members, representatives from State and Federal agencies, and the broadband vendor community.
The 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaskan Native Tribes are the most underserved communities for broadband in the United States. Indeed, FCC data indicates that broadband availability is limited to only 46% of rural American Indian and Alaskan Native lands.
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is changing the broadband landscape in Indian Country with an injection of $3B being provided to tribal governments for broadband projects. The capital injection has sparked the interest of the technology vendors, but the challenge is not with the broadband technology; the real challenge is ensuring the ongoing sustainability of the broadband operation to ensure the economic and social growth of the Native Nations. Godfrey Enjady, the Chairman of the NTTA, aptly summarized the challenge as:
“It’s like we are receiving a brand-new Ford F150, but we don’t have the keys, we don’t have a license, and we don’t have any gas.”
The main issues that we’re working to solve as we left the summit are:
- What are the broadband services that will drive the social, cultural, and economic development of the Tribe?
- How do the Native Nations build a broadband-savvy workforce that can ensure the sustainability of broadband operations for the generations to come?
- Can we overcome the social injustice and trust concerns by building shared risk vehicles to ensure a long-term commitment to providing every Tribal member has access to affordable broadband service?
Regarding broadband services, a sustainable broadband network is not just about the connectivity to Netflix or social media. Broadband is about access to proper healthcare, education, and the critical services that tribal governments provide, as well as the services that private industry provides. Broadband is about job creation and removing boundaries so Tribal members can work globally from anywhere in Indian Country. It is about enabling Native Nations to share, learn, trade, and grow in a global marketplace. To capture the full broadband opportunity, Tribal Governments need to work with their communities and take a holistic approach to service creation across all aspects of Tribal life.
Bridging the gap
A report dated December 2022 from the US Government Accountability Office highlights a workforce shortage of 34,000 broadband engineers and technicians. This shortage is even more acute on rural Tribal lands. Alleviating this challenge are workforce development programs and “build-operate-transfer” models. Cisco provides free workforce development programs through its Network Academy. These programs provide entry-level courses through to professional certifications. Build-Operate-Transfer models provide a period in which a private company will operate the broadband service while training the Tribal members before handing over the full operational control to the Tribe.
Building sustainable broadband future
There is a natural hesitancy for Tribal members to question the long-term commitment of technology vendors to the sustainability of broadband operations in Indian Country. Revenue-share models may help overcome the match-funding and credit requirements of the federal programs and ensure a long-term commitment. Recruiting and developing an American Indian and Native Alaskan workforce will also help the technology vendors develop empathy and understanding to build the strong relationships needed for mutual success. Cisco’s Native American Network is already working with many Tribal non-profits focused on sustainable broadband and is actively recruiting through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
Explore pathways to sustainable broadband on Tribal Lands, and please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to engage Cisco is supporting your journey to provide an inclusive future for all Tribal members.