Chairman Hoeven, Vice Chairman Udall, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the recently released GAO reports on the state of broadband on Tribal lands.
As you know, I testified before this Committee twice during my tenure as the founding Chief of the
I work as the Chief Strategy Officer and General Counsel of
AMERIND was created in 1986 to address the housing crisis and the inability of Tribal Nations to secure insurance for their housing on the open market. Today, AMERIND Risk does business across seven business lines, with hundreds of Tribes and Tribal businesses, in 38 states. AMERIND Risk generates and supports economic development across Indian Country by offering insurance products for Tribal housing, Tribal governments and businesses, and Tribal workers compensation, for example, and living up to its motto of Tribes Protecting Tribes.
AMERIND Risk now protects almost
AMERIND Risk is also making investments in Indian Country. In 2018, our Board of Directors made a multi-million dollar loan to the
I also serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Native Public Media; Co-Chair of the
While there has been incremental improvement in recent years, residents of Tribal lands continue to disproportionately lack access to broadband. Beginning in 2015, the
A more detailed breakdown of the
Deployment (Ten Thousands) on Tribal Lands with Access to Fixed Terrestrial 25 Mbps/3 Mbps Services and Mobile LTE with a Speed of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Pop. % Pop. % Pop. % Pop. % Pop. %
All Tribal Lands 111.653 28.8% 138.505 35.5% 221.177 56.2% 225.788 57.0% 254.954 63.9%
Rural Areas 14.228 7.2 28.306 14.1 59.658 29.5 61.377 30.1 84.452 40.9
Urban Areas 97.425 51.5 110.198 57.9 161.519 84.5 164.412 85.6 170.502 88.5
Alaskan Villages 0.022 0.1% 7.126 28.2% 11.329 44.4% 11.027 42.7% 13.483 51.5%
Rural Areas 0.013 0.1 2.113 13.1 4.214 25.8 3.920 23.7 6.096 36.2
Urban Areas 0.010 0.1 5.013 54.9 7.115 77.4 7.107 76.7 7.387 79.0
Hawaiian Homelands 2.850 89.8% 2.924 90.6% 3.169 96.9% 2.955 88.9% 2.961 88.6%
Rural Areas 0.250 50.9 0.235 45.0 0.455 83.0 0.246 43.9 0.250 43.5
Urban Areas 2.600 96.9 2.688 99.4 2.715 99.8 2.709 98.0 2.711 98.0
Lower 48 States 21.111 19.9% 32.069 30.0% 41.861 38.8% 45.187 41.5% 49.278 44.6%
Rural Areas 5.680 8.1 13.364 18.9 18.512 25.8 20.668 28.4 23.360 31.6
Urban Areas 15.432 43.0 18.705 51.9 23.349 64.8 24.519 67.8 25.918 71.2
Tribal Statistical Areas 87.669 34.6% 96.386 37.8% 164.818 64.2% 166.619 64.5% 189.232 73.0%
Rural Areas 8.285 7.4 12.594 11.2 36.477 32.1 36.542 32.0 54.746 47.6
Urban Areas 79.384 56.1 83.793 58.8 128.341 89.7 130.077 90.3 134.486 93.3
Pop. Evaluated 387.603 100% 390.508 100% 393.310 100% 396.401 100% 399.114 100%
Source: 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, Table 5
While these numbers are alarming, taking into account the most recent GAO study on the matter, they grossly overstate the levels of broadband access on Tribal lands. The accuracy and reliability of the data itself is questionable. The
And these statistics paint only part of the picture - behind them lurks a stark reality. In my life and career, I have been fortunate to set foot on over 200 federal Indian reservations nationwide, on dozens of Alaska Native Villages, and on Hawai'ian Homesteads throughout the Hawai'ian Islands - and my experiences are that the data simply does not reflect the reality. A potential service offering to as little as one household within a census block or tract does not equate to deployment, and therefore does not reflect the reality of the digital divide in Indian Country. Plain and simple. The data must be improved and Tribal Nations are more than willing to help.
Tribal lands continue to suffer from the historical negative impacts of how, when, and where they were created. Aspects of this history resulted in an endemic lack of critical infrastructures, which persists today. In fact, almost no critical infrastructure has come to Tribal lands without federal investment, oversight, and regulation. Broadband opportunities can do much to overcome this negative history by bringing health care, education, jobs, and the opportunities of hope to Indian Country. But broadband must be available, accessible, and affordable to meet its promise.
It was in the context of the persistent disparity in communications services on Tribal lands that GAO initiated a series of engagements on the persistent challenges facing broadband deployment across Indian Country. The first GAO report, entitled "Broadband Internet:
Broadband Deployment Data on Tribal Lands
Again, the current
This is as true today as it was in 2011, when this Committee articulated this same concern and when I had the privilege of testifying before you in my previous role as Chief of the
And this was not an isolated incident, but rather stands as but one example of many about which I learned first-hand during my tenure at the
How will this be accomplished? As this Committee understands so well, there is no "one size fits all" approach in Indian Country. Rather, "one size fits none" is a more accurate characterization, which is why data specific to individual Tribal lands is so very critical. And, as reflected in GAO's Tribal broadband data recommendations, this will require both a dedicated process to collect broadband data specific to Tribal lands and a dedicated process to substantively involve Tribal Nations in the review of carrier-reported data. These processes are two sides of the same coin and, in many ways, interrelated. That is, both processes share the same goal - the collection of comprehensive and accurate data reflecting the actual state of broadband on Tribal lands. They are also inherent in the
This is not an easy task - but bridging the digital divide in Indian Country has certainly proven to be far from an easy task. Partnerships, policies, and rules are not created in a vacuum, but instead are rooted in real world experience and analysis. Indian Country stands ready to work in partnership with the
And there is something important here to understand about the data, to ensure that it is meaningful. Data on the digital divide in Indian Country must take into account everything - every condition - that contributes to it. In addition to the census blocks that take into account remoteness or terrain, Indian Country data must also account for the factors that contribute to adoption, such as affordability and availability. The thesis here is simple - get more broadband deployment where it is needed. Make resources effective and available, so that broadband offerings are affordable and available. We all need to coordinate on things that comport with that thesis - and stop doing things that are antithetical.
I would like to share with you two examples of comprehensive quantitative and qualitative Tribal broadband studies produced in recent years. Both studies focused on deployment (accessibility) and adoption (uses) of broadband in Indian Country. The first study, released in 2009, is entitled "New Media, Technology and Internet Use: Qualitative and Quantitative Analyses" and was produced by Native Public Media and the
As I stated when I testified before this Committee in 2011, Tribal engagement is a critical component of broadband deployment. That concept is as true today as it was in 2011. The best approach to developing and coordinating well thought-out solutions is to work together to identify and remove barriers to solutions and build models with Tribal Nations that engage their core community or anchor institutions. As Tribes govern with a unique understanding of their communities, their vested and active involvement is critically important to finding lasting solutions in their communities. Tribal Nations need to be at the center of those solutions, whether it is through self-provisioning or through other new "Tribal-centric" methods of engagement and deployment with industry, public, or private partners. These models must respect the cultural values and sovereign priorities of Tribal Nations and be infused with the local knowledge that will lead to better opportunities for successful deployment in Tribal communities.
It was upon this foundation that the
. A needs assessment and deployment planning with a focus on Tribal community anchor institutions;
. Feasibility and sustainability planning;
. Marketing services in a culturally sensitive manner;
. Rights of way processes, land use permitting, facilities siting, and environmental and cultural preservation processes; and
. Compliance with Tribal business and licensing requirements.
In addition, also in the context of High-Cost/CAF reform, the
It is fair to say that the Tribal government engagement obligation has not lived up to its intended potential. While some providers have taken the obligation seriously, many more have viewed it as a "check the box" requirement for the receipt of millions of dollars in universal service funding. Both during and since my tenure at the
Perhaps even more disturbing, Tribal leaders have relayed that the data ETCs are required to provide to them annually more often than not is heavily redacted and, as a result, unintelligible. This is data about service on their own Tribal lands. In other instances, Tribal leaders are presented with non-disclosure agreements with the demand that they be signed if the Tribes want access to their own broadband data. There is no provision in the
Now that several years' worth of data and experience is available, it is time to seriously evaluate compliance and develop best practices going forward. These processes will require substantive consultation with Tribal Nations pursuant to the
Regulatory investment solutions that have seen incremental success in the past two decades have also created more recalcitrant strains of the digital divide in areas where those regulatory solutions have not driven deployment and adoption. Many Tribal Nations recognize the reality that they are part of the solution not only for achieving good data on broadband access, but also part of the solution in Tribally-driven projects that will bring connectivity to their communities. In an environment where few outside and non-Tribal entities are willing to make the investment and confront the potential debts of deploying on Tribal lands, Tribes themselves are confronting the challenges and opportunities of becoming their own providers - in whatever form that may take.
Tribal Nations are having to analyze the "ownership economics" of their own projects that would bring broadband to their own corners of Indian Country. Those who are willing to take on the challenge and face the debts as de facto providers of last resort need help. They need all of our help. It is high time that everyone involved in this challenge acknowledge this reality and the potential of Tribal projects developed by Tribal Nations.
AMERIND is located on the Pueblo of
This is the very situation facing many of the Tribes in
These two first of their kind Tribal projects represent what can be done to bring broadband to communities in Indian Country through effective partnerships. Such efforts are few and far between now, but these partnerships provide hope, a foundation, and a potential model upon which to build.
In conclusion, the ubiquitous lack of access to broadband services over Tribal lands continues to create a divide preventing residents of Tribal lands from accessing information and services critical to our 21st century economy. Community-oriented and truly effective deployment of communications technologies within Indian Country, however, has the potential to level the negative social, cultural, and economic impacts that history has caused Tribal Nations to endure. New commercial, educational, and health care opportunities, as well as social stability and quality of life issues, can genuinely be improved through broadband. And most importantly, extending broadband across Indian Country will achieve a more equal opportunity for all Americans - opening the door for every citizen to become a part of the digital future of our country and ensuring that Tribal Nations enjoy a secure and enduring place in that future.
Mvto, and thank you again for the opportunity to testify this afternoon. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.
n1 Inquiry Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion, GN Docket No. 17-199, 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, 33
n2 See Establishing a Government-to-Government Relationship with Indian Tribes, Policy Statement, 16
n6 47 U.S.C. [Sec.] 254(b)(2) (emphasis added).
Read this original document at: https://www.indian.senate.gov/sites/default/files/Geoffrey%20Blackwell%20written%20statement%20Final_SCIA_100318.pdf