Broadband for All: Amplifying Indigenous Voices

By Dori Erann 9 min read

As broadband connectivity progresses forward in rural and remote communities around the country, it has become increasingly apparent that the basic understanding of the digital divide – “the [internet] haves vs. the have nots” – is no longer a sufficient or adequately inclusive explanation. To truly understand and address the digital inequities that still exist today, the analyses must go much deeper – looking at root causes and cultural nuances for why we see the divide, and how such disparities deeply affect large groups of people, especially historically marginalized populations such as First American tribes. 

Through an intentional practice of first listening, then learning, and finally, supporting various groups of indigenous peoples across North America, it is our goal to gain clarity and understanding of the unique broadband needs and nuances of each customer we work with. With a heightened awareness of their unique needs, we will be able to do what we at Ceragon do best – roll up our sleeves and get to work solving connectivity problems, large and small, to support our friends living and working in rural areas, and on tribal lands. 

Listen & Learn: Understanding Each Tribe’s Community Priorities 

One thing is true across the broad-sweeping expanse of the digital divide: broadband access can no longer be considered a luxury. It is a necessity for every community – especially historically underrepresented groups – to have equal access to: 

  • Healthcare 
  • Education 
  • Workforce development 
  • Employment opportunities 
  • Local tribal government operations management support 
  • Intergovernmental communications 
  • Financial equity 
  • And many other opportunities 

High-speed broadband is the backbone for achieving all the above, and without it, the Indigenous Peoples of North America continue to be left behind. 

When it comes to truly addressing the needs of each individual tribe, we recognize a certain level of intricacies and nuanced approaches are necessary to successful collaboration with various sovereign governments. Clear communication and involvement with tribal leaders are essential to success. And to us at Ceragon, network planning and deployments have never been a “network-in-a-box, one-size-fits-all” solution. We recognize that this is especially true when working with customers living and working on protected and sacred lands. Our central goal is to always address the unique needs of each local community. 

Striking the Right Balance: Supporting Indigenous Tribes through Close Collaboration 

In addition to the more obvious, inherent challenges associated with deploying broadband to tribal communities – remote/low population densities, challenging terrain, and limited budgets – there are some nuanced barriers to consider as well. These include: 

  • The need for proactive, future-proof strategic planning vs. the reactive approaches of the past 
  • Navigating and protecting sacred lands throughout the planning and deployment process 
  • Not enough training or skilled workers 
  • The need for a supportive and collaborative web of support expertise and partnerships 

Designing & Implementing a Strategy 

The recent announcement of nearly $1 billion in additional funds added to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is a good step forward on the part of the federal government to demonstrate its commitment to the “Federal Indian Trust Responsibility,” which dates back to 1831. Under this historical legal obligation, the United States government “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” toward federally recognized First Americans and Alaska Indigenous tribes and villages. And that means the United States has the distinct responsibility to protect “tribal…lands, assets, resources, and treaty and similarly recognized rights.” 

Though offering funding helps, without the necessary supportive measures and mechanisms baked into the process, it does not fully solve the problem. Within the constraints of previous funding opportunities such as the Connect America Fund, Tribal Nations were often the last to be served in rollout plans, IF they were not dropped entirely after initial buildout obligations were met. This is obviously unacceptable. 

Before recently releasing the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program Round 2 NOFO, the NTIA held a series of consultations to determine priorities and processes, including comments from 33 tribal leaders. Other enhancements this time around will also help support First American Nations and tribes, including: 

  • A longer application period – extended to six months. Based on feedback from tribal leaders, 90 days was not enough time to adequately develop a broadband plan. 
  • A focus on network deployment support and adoption programs. 
  • More priority given to applications that highlight and promote workforce development such as on-the-job training and certification. 
  • Enhanced reporting & mapping to prevent duplication of funding. 

We think taking steps to LISTEN to tribal communities and their leaders is a great first move toward developing a solid path forward to bridging this particularly pronounced digital divide. 

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Partnering with Ceragon – Supporting the Entire Network Lifecycle 

So what can you expect from us as a partner? Simple…a collaborative and attentive team, streamlined techniques, and cutting-edge technology. 

  • We will work closely with your most trusted advisors and consultants, as well as bring a large network of our own trusted partners to each project we work on. 
  • Help with developing a strategy for obtaining funding. 
  • Funding program compliance support. 
  • Decades of experience with end-to-end networks, from backhaul to access and beyond. 
  • Passionate thought leaders with tenacity to get the job done right…the first time. 

  • High-level vision for each project 
  • First-time-right deployments 
  • End-to-end professional services  
  • Operations & managed services 
  • Ongoing maintenance contracts for future-proof network upgrades 
  • Extensive training programs 

  • Multi-technology, multi-vendor network design, planning, rollout, and maintenance – we not only provide high-speed wireless backhaul and middle-mile connectivity, but we can design, maintain, and manage your entire network  
  • Fiber extension – we can take fiber further, deploying our high-capacity wireless technology where fiber cannot go 
  • Advanced software tools including our groundbreaking and proprietary digital twin technology 

We’re ready when you are. Contact us today to get started with a free consultation or meet us at TribalNet in San Diego, September 18-21, to explore your options with us! 

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