The past month I was able to see Federal Communications Commission, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn speak at the Competitive Carrier Association spring gathering, where I was reminded of the stark statistics that show that Indian Country continues to be left behind in broadband infrastructure. Today, 68% of Reservation residents do not have access to high-speed Internet vs 40% of the rest of the rural United States. To help remedy this and award money to build out the most rural areas, the Federal Communications Commission has developed a process to challenge maps turned in by national carriers that do not accurately depict the coverage (in this case) on Reservations. Many of my tribal partners have engaged in this process, which has been open and will continue until November 30th. Overall this is referred to as the Mobility Fund Phase II and will invest up to $4.53 billion over the next 10 years to areas without subsidies today. https://www.fcc.gov/maps/mobility-fund-ii-initial-eligible-areas-map/
This summer and beyond the November 30th deadline for challenges, those Tribes that can demonstrate access to wireless frequency (also referred to as spectrum) can participate in a Reverse Auction at the FCC. The Reverse Auction will award funding for the lowest bid for covering a certain eligible area. This is a fantastic opportunity for Tribes to flex their sovereign muscle with their own telecom infrastructure. Much like casinos and tourism have been an economic engine for visionary and business-focused Tribes, telecom can be the next big thing.
I encourage you to take action – why wait and hope that another company decides to cover your area when you are the best at taking care of your land and your people. As I have said before, think of your telecom infrastructure in the same vein as your roads, water, sewer, housing and all essential utilities. And the thing that is even better, your investment in telecom has an upside in revenue and job creation for your Tribe.
This process may seem daunting to some but it is necessary to engage in the process for a better future for your children. If you want some guidance to call me or send an email and I will be happy to schedule a meeting to discuss the ins and outs of this process.
This editorial was written for and published in the Tribal Business Journal, June 2018 issue.