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Hirono and Kahele Urge FCC to Advance Broadband and Spectrum Access for Native Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Representative Kaiali'i Kahele (D-HI), along with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Representatives Ed Case (D-HI) and Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel urging the FCC to consider more ways to advance Native communities’ access to and ownership of spectrum over their lands. According to a recent estimate from the American Indian Policy Institute, nearly a third of Tribal lands in the United States lack internet access.

“Many rural and underserved communities in Hawaii have struggled with inequitable broadband access for years,” said Senator Hirono. “Expanding broadband services for Tribal Nations and other Native communities, including Native Hawaiians, will help alleviate disparities and enable access to crucial resources such as online education and telemedicine.”

“In today’s digital era, equal opportunity is impossible without equal access to high-speed, reliable internet. Connectivity is key in ensuring that everyone can benefit from essential, modern day resources such as telehealth, online learning and remote job opportunities. Mahalo FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel for your commitment to increase broadband access on Tribal lands, and I look forward to continuing our work with this administration to ensure Native communities across our country are not left behind,” said Congressman Kahele.

Over 1.5 million people living on Tribal lands lack access to broadband services. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this disparity, limiting access to telemedicine, virtual and remote learning, and public safety programs, among other services.

“We ask that you continue to support the economic development of Tribal Nations and Native communities by working to advance their spectrum access and ownership,” said the lawmakers. “Advancing Native spectrum access and ownership is the best way for the FCC to work toward fulfilling the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.”

In the letter, the lawmakers recognize the Commission’s previous investments and commitments to advancing Tribal broadband and the Chairwoman herself has spoken to the necessity of bridging the digital divide that disadvantages many Tribal communities. Still, the lawmakers note that while “these steps are all important and commendable,” more can be done to facilitate economic development in these communities.

“The need is clear,” concluded the lawmakers. “So is the solution: enhance Tribal self-sufficiency and self-governance by facilitating Tribal spectrum access and ownership.”

The full text of the letter is available here.

Senator Hirono has consistently advocated to expand access to broadband and emerging information technology for communities in need. During the pandemic, Senator Hirono supported numerous efforts to expand general access to broadband for businesses, workers and families, students, and others. Last year, she supported the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (P.L. 117-58), which Congress passed in November, to provide an historic investment of $65 billion to improve broadband access in local communities.