The least connected people in America

Rural Indian reservations have lower rates of coverage than anywhere else in the nation. About 35 percent of Americans living in tribal lands lack broadband access, according to the most recent report by the Federal Communications Commission. In Idaho, the FCC estimates that 83 percent of the tribal population lacks broadband, making the Nez Perce tribe among the least-connected groups in the country.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai acknowledges the commission’s mapping problem, and said the agency is updating the way it collects information from providers in an attempt to more accurately understand which areas of the country really have broadband. He described it as an ongoing process that is extremely labor-intensive. He also believes things could improve with a new idea the FCC is trying: a "reverse auction" being held this summer in which providers will compete for subsidies to fund broadband in parts of the country that lack speedy service, including areas on the Nez Perce reservation. The agency plans to award up to $2 billion over the next decade to companies to deploy broadband in areas that aren’t being served through the private sector or by other subsidized companies. (The "reverse" means that companies will compete to offer the lowest bids for the best service.) Chairman Pai said the agency took pains to ensure that a range of companies can participate, including some of the country’s rural electric cooperatives, which have expressed interest in adding internet to the electric services they already provide to remote regions. The cooperatives have historically focused on their core business, but see opportunities to add broadband to their services because they are already laying fiber connections for smart grid management, and it’s a service their customers are increasingly demanding.

For the tribe’s part, the Nez Perce are planning to compete in the upcoming auction themselves to go after funding to extend broadband to areas that lack access. They don’t feel like they can count on private companies to ever get around to them.


The least connected people in America