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Kalle Benallie
ICT

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Thursday that the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is being expanded by an additional $1 billion, bringing the total funding available to $1.98 billion.

The money is being put forward into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Tribes that already submitted applications to the program will not need to reapply.

“Our administration’s vision is to connect all Native communities with the internet and with the opportunity that comes along with access to affordable internet. The opportunity to live healthier, happier and more prosperous lives and we will continue to fight for that everyday to make that vision a reality,” Vice President Kamala Harris said.

More than 300 applications were received during the first application window. The applications showed a major need for funding which Commerce hopes to serve a portion with the additional money.

Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor to the president and White House infrastructure implementation coordinator, said that it’s just the start of their investment into Indian Country.

“This is going to get more funding to those quickly while reducing the administrative burdens to these tribes,” he said.

Throughout August, tribal applicants like tribal governments, schools and utility companies will receive more than $500 million in grants.

Five tribes in New Mexico are receiving $146 million in awards. The Pueblo of Isleta, south of Albuquerque, is receiving $26 million. Isleta Pueblo Gov. Vernon Abeita said the grants will help with virtual learning and telemedicine access.

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“We’re only 15 miles away from Albuquerque and yet our community isn’t able to have full internet service to our community members. So we relied on a lot of cell-service hotspots which didn’t give us a lot of good connectivity because of [the] area that we’re in. And also cell service was very expensive for us here,” he said.

Abeita said the money will help address the difficulties they have faced, especially those highlighted from the pandemic.

Other programs and services tribal communities can apply to are the Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program. It has about a billion dollars available with applications being accepted beginning on Sept. 6.

In July, the Treasury Department awarded 87 tribal governments $14.6 million from the Capital Projects Fund, but an additional $85.4 million is available for tribal governments that have not yet claimed their allocation. The deadline to request the funding is Monday, Aug. 15.

Also in July, Commerce announced over $10 million in grants to expand high-speed internet to minority-serving colleges and universities.

The administration is currently asking households on tribal lands to check their eligibility to save up to $75 per month on their internet bills through the Affordable Connectivity Program. They ask to find a fully-covered plan and sign up at GetInternet.gov.

Additionally, as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, $2.75 billion is set aside to promote digital equity and inclusion. Approximately 470 tribes in 28 states have indicated that they would like to participate in the Digital Equity Planning Grant program.

Commerce will be working with tribes in the coming months to submit applications and award funds.

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