Broadband in Rural & Tribal Areas

An updated report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS)(https://www.loc.gov submitted to Congressional Members and Committees on January 2019, titled “Broadband Internet Access and the Digital Divide: Federal Assistance Programs”, looks at the state of broadband access across the U.S but also discusses broadband issues as they relate to rural and Tribal communities.

According to the report, while there are many examples of rural communities with state-of-the-art telecommunications facilities, recent surveys and studies have indicated that in general, rural areas and particularly tribal areas tend to lag behind urban and suburban areas in broadband deployment particularly for wireline broadband technologies.

For example, according to survey data from the Pew Research Center’s “Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet”, published February 2018 http://www.pewinernet.org/fact-sheet/internet-broadband, 58 percent of adults in rural areas said they have a high speed broadband connection at home, as opposed to 67 percent of adults in urban areas and 70 percent of adults in suburban areas.

The terrain in rural areas makes it more expensive to deploy broadband technologies in a mountainous or heavily forested areas. Also, the cost factor for remote areas can entail the expense of installing dedicated lines which can transmit a signal to and from an internet backbone which is typically located in or near an urban areas.

Tribal regions exhibit high poverty rates and low income levels plus the fact that many tribal communities are located in remote rural areas or frontier areas which is why tribal areas have comparatively poor levels of broadband access and why providers may lack an economic incentive to serve these areas.

Until recently, data on tribal broadband deployment has been scarce. However, the FCC and the Department of Commerce are now collecting and compiling data on tribal broadband deployment.

The most recent data as of December 2017, shows that approximately 34 percent of Americans living on tribal lands lack access to broadband at speeds of at least 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. Tribal areas lacking the most broadband service are rural Alaskan villages and rural tribal lands in the lower 48 states.

Tribal areas are eligible for virtually all federal broadband programs. However, as the CRS report states, “The debate centers on whether federal funding for Tribal broadband is sufficient and the extent to which portions of federal funds for broadband should be specifically targeted for tribal broadband. This issue will be likely be determined by Congress determining the overall federal funding for broadband.”

Go to https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/Rl30719.pdf to view the CRS updated report issued January 9, 2019.

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