About a fifth of people living on tribal lands don’t have broadband access.
Some states are trying to help tribal efforts. In 2023, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico and Oregon enacted laws to support broadband expansion by streamlining funding to local governments, including tribes and underserved communities.
One of the measures in California’s Digital Equity Bill of Rights, a first-of-its-kind bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in October, outlines how the state should ensure that all Californians have equal access to broadband. The new law was pushed by the California Emerging Technology Fund, a nonprofit aimed at closing the state’s digital divide — the widening gap between who can and cannot access digital technology.
But Matthew Rantanen, the director of technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, says there’s still work to do nationwide. Rantanen, a descendant of the Cree Nation, has worked for two decades with Native communities across the country to secure broadband access.
“As you’re sitting there physically building a network you run into a lot of, ‘Well, how come we can’t get funding for this when everybody else can?’, or ‘Tribes don’t have access to this spectrum because nobody’s using it,’ and so on,” Rantanen said. “And so, you start fighting these policy pieces and figuring out there’s a lot of parts that need to be sorted.”