“I will tell you, and I think you know, that billions of dollars in funding doesn’t mean a doggone thing if we’re not prepared to work with the Tribes, and the Tribes aren’t prepared to work with us, to make sure that the funding is effectively implemented,” said Tester. “So what recommendations does NCAI (National Congress of American Indians) have in ensuring the broadband funds from the infrastructure bill are implemented properly? Do you have any recommendations that you’re giving to the Tribes?”
This week, in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs’ Roundtable discussion on “Closing the Digital Divide in Native Communities through Infrastructure Investment,” U.S. Senator Jon Tester urged state governments to better work with Tribal governments to successfully implement broadband funding from his recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“The recommendations are to, if you don’t have relationships with your state government, to develop some of those relationships around broadband,” answered Matthew Rantanen, the National Congress of American Indians Co-Chair of the Subcommittee on Technology & Telecommunications. “Because, as we’re seeing in many states like California and some others, they’re actively pursuing broadband solutions at the middle mile level to bring connectivity into the rural regions where the Tribes are. And the Tribes should be in those conversations, in those development projects to understand the benefits coming to them through the federal funding that they’re getting, the benefits of them working with the state to work together and stretch that dollar, and make sure they get connectivity out of that. State relationships are key.”
Tester went on to discuss the importance of telehealth with the Honorable William Smith, the Chair of the National Indian Health Board, stressing its critical importance to Tribes and veterans in Montana and across the country.
Tester crafted the recently passed bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and worked to included significant investment in broadband expansion and high speed internet connection for Tribes in Montana and across the nation. In his legislation he secured $2 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which will help Tribal entities with broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.
Tester worked across the aisle for months to negotiate this agreement with a group of five Republicans, four Democrats, and the White House, and he was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for it. Tester’s law is projected to create more than 800,000 American jobs and lower costs for businesses by making targeted investments that will strengthen our nation without raising taxes on working families. Tester also worked to ensure that all iron, steel, and construction materials used for these projects must be made in America.
Additional broadband infrastructure provisions from the law can be found below, and a full list of all provisions can be found HERE.
Tester’s legislation includes:
- $42.45 billion grant program for broadband deployment to areas of the country lacking access to internet service. The program will be distributed in the following manner:
- $4.2 billion of which is set aside for high-cost, geographically-challenged areas that are especially difficult and expensive to deploy broadband infrastructure to.
- A minimum allocation of $100 million to each state. Up to $5 million in funding to support state broadband office activities, including planning, coordination, and grant administration.
- The remaining funding will be allocated to each state using a formula based on that state’s total unserved population.
- $2 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which will help Tribal entities with broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.
- $2 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that provide loans and grants to fund broadband service deployment and maintenance in rural areas.
- $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act, which will help states develop plans and fund projects to make the internet more accessible and provide Americans with the digital skills necessary to participate in a 21st century economy (for example, digital literacy programs for seniors).
- $1 billion for middle mile broadband infrastructure projects, which will connect the backbone of the internet to local community anchor institutions like schools, libraries, and public safety entities.
- $14.2 billion to make permanent the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB), which will be renamed the Affordable Connectivity Program. As of January 2022, 15,518 households in Montana have enrolled in this program to get help with their internet bills.
- Senator Tester fought to make sure participating households can apply the benefit to any internet service plan of their choosing.
- Additional consumer protection provisions that safeguard against digital redlining and price-gouging.
- The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Development Act, which will help address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry to ramp up the human resources required in order to deploy broadband infrastructure efficiently and effectively.