NRECA is urging a federal agency charged with awarding $1 billion for broadband deployment on tribal lands to make sure that these communities receive the best service possible with proven technologies.
NRECA sent recommendations to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration as the agency formulates its Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants Program.
“The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has put the spotlight on the absolute and outright necessity for ubiquitous high-performing broadband for all Americans, and the broadband gap is more pronounced and persistent on tribal lands,” said Brian O’Hara, NRECA senior director of regulatory affairs.
To ensure tribal communities get the most from these grants, NRECA is asking NTIA to inject flexibility and efficiency into the program created by a pandemic relief measure Congress passed in December. That means potentially offering grants to tribal communities even if they were covered by the Federal Communications Commission’s two previous rural broadband auctions: the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and the Connect America Fund.
O’Hara said an ongoing FCC review of RDOF winners may result in the disqualification of some bidders with unproven technologies. If NTIA excludes regions covered by those bids, which includes tribal areas, they could be shut out of federal broadband funding for years.
“Gigabit speed from wireless providers or service from low-earth-orbit satellites are not fully tested and may not pan out for these remote and challenging communities, so we highly encourage NTIA to include them in their new grant program,” he said.
NRECA is asking the agency to set a minimum data speed of 100 megabits per second download and 20 mbps upload broadband for any grant recipients. Applicants proposing gigabit and same up/same down speeds should be given priority, he said.
The agency also should reject a strict one-year timeframe for expending all grant monies and instead install a waiver process to allow additional time for the funds to be used, NRECA said.
“NRECA, on behalf of its members, strongly supports the efforts of Congress and the NTIA to address the widely recognized digital divide between unserved and served areas of the country,” O’Hara said.
“The recommendations submitted by NRECA will improve the program and benefit all applicants and the rural communities they plan to supply with vital broadband internet access.”
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.