GAO calls for action to improve tribal Internet access

GAO calls for action to improve tribal Internet access

According to the Government Accountability Office, better data collection and coordination of services would help agencies ensure high-speed Internet service in tribal communities.

Although all 21 tribes GAO interviewed have some level of access to high-speed Internet, high poverty rates in those communities, combined with the expense of infrastructure build out in remote areas, limit Internet adoption and expansion on tribal lands. Additionally, GAO found the lack of technical expertise among tribal members holds back Internet development.

Both the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund e-Rate subsidy program and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service have responsibilities to increase high-speed Internet adoption on tribal lands by helping with infrastructure development and by paying for the ongoing operation of the infrastructure and equipment. Noting that interagency coordination on interrelated programs helps ensure efficient use of resources, GAO found, however, that the FCC and USDA do not coordinate to develop joint outreach and training, which reduces effectiveness.

The other barrier to increasing Internet adoption is lack of reliable data and metrics. GAO recommended that the FCC develop performance goals and measures on Internet availability to tribal households, schools and libraries. The E-rate application also needs to be modified to better define “tribal,” which will improve the reliability of FCC data related to institutions that receive E-Rate funding, GAO said.

FCC concurred with the report’s recommendations and noted that it has efforts underway to address them.

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Derek Major is a former reporter for GCN.

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