September 14, 2020

Cortez Masto Calls on FCC Chairman to Expeditiously Address the Digital Divide in Indian Country

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M) and fellow Democratic Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) colleagues in calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expedite broadband connectivity to Native communities to improve access to critical services during the pandemic including telemedicine, online education, and teleworking opportunities.

“The federal trust responsibility imposes on the United States the highest moral and legal obligation toward American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities, as reflected in the Constitution of the United States, treaties, federal statues, Executive orders, and numerous court decisions,” wrote the senators. “It is one of the most important principles of federal Indian law, strengthening the United States’ government-to-government relationship with Indian tribes and promoting Tribal sovereignty and self-determination. The Commission has long recognized the unique government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Tribal governments, and that it requires the federal government to adhere to certain fiduciary standards in dealing with Indian Tribes. The failure to take action to provide essential broadband service in the midst of the COVID-19 calls into question the Commission’s adherence to the federal trust responsibility.”

According to the FCC, less than half of households on Tribal lands have access to fixed broadband service. This represents a nearly 27-point gap compared to non-Tribal rural areas. This gap only widens when compared to the country-wide average. In 2018, the FCC estimated that 35 percent of Americans living on Tribal lands lacked access to broadband services, compared to eight percent of all Americans.

A full copy of the letter can be found HERE.