Tribal lands are amongst the most underserved areas in terms of high speed internet service. According to the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy (ONAP), 85% of residents of tribal lands in rural areas lack access to high speed internet. A 2014 study undertaken by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) revealed that even tribal libraries lack high quality technology service and “are less well equipped than mainstream public libraries to help their communities meet essential digital literacy, digital inclusion, and digital citizenship goals.” As a result, the economic, educational, and communication benefits associated with fast internet are largely absent for many people living on tribal lands.
As the need for digital inclusion in all communities gains traction, the inequity of internet service on tribal lands becomes increasingly unacceptable. But as long as the economic incentives for broadband providers to extend service to these areas remains low, the burden for gaining service will rest largely with the communities themselves. New FCC programs that provide training and assistance to tribal leaders for accessing funds for broadband development and deployment have helped make small and gradual inroads into the broadband service gap. And some tribes, such as the Navajo in Arizona, have begun operating their own native telecommunications companies. While all agree that the field of opportunities is far from level when compared to the service offered in large, centralized urban regions, progress is occurring, including improvements in broadband mapping on native lands. In New Mexico, efforts to improve broadband in native communities include a 2016 loan to Sacred Wind to improve broadband infrastructure on native lands.