WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) are working to advance their bipartisan legislation to improve access to high-speed internet in rural Tribal communities.
In a letter to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the senators requested a hearing on the bipartisan Tribal Connect Act. The bill would improve and increase access to the FCC’s $4 billion schools and libraries universal service support program, known as E-rate, and establish a $100 million Tribal E-rate pilot program for broadband access in Indian Country to tribes without libraries. While most of the nation’s public libraries have received E-rate support, only an estimated 15 percent of Tribal libraries have received critical E-rate funds.
“The Tribal Connect Act aims to improve broadband connectivity and close the digital divide for students and children living in Indian Country. Broadband access is vital for local economies and small businesses and is a cornerstone to improving education, tele-health services, and job-training opportunities. Yet, approximately 60 percent of people who live in rural tribal communities do not have access to fixed high-speed broadband,” wrote the senators.
“Connecting more tribes to the E-rate program will ensure that all of our students and children can compete on an even playing field and learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century,” the senators continued.
The Tribal Connect Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and supported by the American Library Association, National Congress of American Indians, National India Education Association, AMERIND Risk, and the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums. Senator Heinrich consulted with the Pueblo library consortiums in New Mexico representing the Pueblos of Cochiti, Jemez, Zia, Santa Ana, San Felipe, and Santo Domingo before introducing the legislation.
Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.