Digital Divide: Tribal Communities Are Undercounted, Underserved

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When broadband fails to reach indigenous tribes, the result is not only a lack of connectivity but also a scarcity of data that essentially masks their needs from the government. The digital divide disproportionately affects underserved populations, and for Tribal communities, it is exacerbated by jurisdictional challenges, geographic coverage limitations, and a lack of affordability, said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute (AIPI). The absence of technology and even staff on Tribal lands restricts the amount of their information that can be gathered about native communities compared with other areas of the country, creating data divides. When American Indians and Native Alaskans are undercounted by the census, for example, their needs are too, according to the Center for Data Innovation’s recent report on the data divide. Despite funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to increase digital access and broadband on indigenous lands, “government officials cannot effectively grasp the scope of the problem,” because of inadequate data according to the report. There have been efforts to improve the situation, Morris said. In Temecula (CA) in the summer of 2021, representatives from various tribes met up to learn about broadband installation for the first tribal wireless boot camp. The session focused on building, maintaining, and troubleshooting wireless networks. Tribal broadband boot camps are slated to continue next year as well. Additionally, the US Department of Commerce announced the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP), which will award nearly $1 billion in funds that would help “deploy broadband infrastructure, establish affordable broadband programs, and support digital inclusion across Indian Country to lessen the digital divide."

Digital divide: Tribal Communities Undercounted, Underserved