For many months I have been sharing my thoughts on various happenings in technology and telecommunications. By now, I think we can all agree broadband is crucial for increased health, educational and economic opportunities, as well as for job and business creation and growth. Broadband can help close the digital divide between rural and urban communities.
I believe there is a multitude of ways to save money, create revenue, create jobs and diversify a tribe’s economy. Some tribal partners I talk to even believe that telecommunications can be as important to a tribe’s economy as fuel, casinos, power, manufacturing, agriculture and other enterprises. I tend to agree because I have spent my career in this environment and the in next 10 years, projections for the infrastructure to deliver telecommunications services is mind-boggling.
Many tribal leaders feel overwhelmed with formulating a funding strategy to develop a sound telecom enterprise. The good news is there are several major funding programs for telecom! The Universal Service Programs and the Rural Utilities Programs are committed to the important principle that everyone in the U.S. deserves accessible, affordable, and pervasive high-speed connectivity. Universal Service funds, sometimes referred to as E-rate, exist to fill the gaps in access and is administered as an independent not-for-profit designated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) called the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC). USAC administers almost $10 billion annually to be used for schools and libraries, rural health care, lifeline (low income) and high-cost areas.
In addition, the USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Programs provide a variety of loans and grants to build and expand broadband networks. Loans to build broadband networks and deliver service to rural households and businesses, provide capital for rural telecommunications companies, broadband providers, wireless companies and fiber-to-the-home providers. These types of grants are reserved for communities with the highest need. I have also seen some tribes tap into other grants or loan programs for housing or TANF that have a technology or telecom component for the project or program, creating a sound funding strategy to get or improve broadband infrastructure.
I hope you saw in a recent press release that Amerind Critical Infrastructure assisted two New Mexico Tribes working together to leverage $8 Million in E-rate funds to bring broadband to their schools and libraries. By aggregating demand and working together this is a huge success story.
I know it’s summer and many folks are on vacation or involved in tribal celebrations. Even so, I urge you to keep this on your radar and ask your economic development staff to consider these initiatives and funding sources. As you know, access to broadband has become essential for the social and economic benefits it provides to tribal residents, businesses, governments, and communities.
This editorial was written for and published in the Tribal Business Journal, July 2018 issue.