The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved plans on March 3 to explore introducing broadband and communications services to new Indian territories, reported the National Journal. “If you don’t have access to high-speed Internet in today’s economy, you don’t have access to all the employment and educational opportunities it provides,” said Angela Simpson, senior policy adviser for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
To aid the expansion, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski designated 30 members to serve on the Native Nations Broadband Task Force, stated the National Journal. The task force for the National Broadband Plan, developed in 2009 by the FCC at the request of Congress, will work to increase broadband deployment and adoption on Tribal lands, according to NationalBroadbandPlan.org.
But the responsibility to install fiber-optic Internet and wireless towers will fall on many tribal enterprises, such as the Tohono O’odham Utility Authority. The tribal entity received the most stimulus funding in the state, $17.4 million in grants and loans to service 3,000 homes, small businesses and other facilities that lack Internet access or rely on dial-up, reported The Arizona Republic. “We’re going to have to try to create our own demand,” Charles Wiese, the Tohono O’odham Utility Authority general manager, told the Republic. “I’m just having nightmares of the thought of providing all this fiber to these homes and nobody uses it.”
The state’s broadband expansions on four reservations will serve rural areas that don’t even have running water or electricity, according to the Republic. Even though tribal members may be behind the technological curve, signs indicate they want to stay in pace with society. A Native Public Media survey released last year found that Indians provided with Internet access use it at greater rates than the national norms, reported the Republic.
And the Internet has the potential to transform the nation’s poorest areas, stated the Republic, citing the Depression-era Tennessee Valley Authority as an example. The U.S.-owned corporation introduced electric power to a major stretch of the southeastern United States in the 1930s, and the project fueled industrial growth in the impoverished Tennessee River Basin, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s website.
Aside from immediate job creation, Wiese realizes the benefits to the Tohono O’odham Nation and other tribes delivering broadband to rural residents are far down the road. “Our decision making is not to maximize profits,” Wiese said. “It’s to maximize benefits out here.”