Cole’s bipartisan bill bridges digital divide for Native Americans

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) recently introduced a bipartisan bill to expedite and streamline the deployment of affordable broadband service on America’s tribal lands, less than half of which have access to fixed broadband service, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

“In order for tribal governments to reach their highest potential, they must have the ability to utilize the same technologies available to the rest of rural America,” said Rep. Cole, co-chair of the Native American Caucus. “By advancing the distribution of affordable broadband service on tribal lands, we can indeed bridge the digital divide and improve tribal economic development and sovereignty.”

Rep. Cole on Feb. 11 joined six other original cosponsors of the Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act of 2020, H.R. 5850, which is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).

If enacted, H.R. 5850 would hasten the deployment of broadband services to Native American communities by coordinating and improving the effectiveness of federal resources, according to a bill summary provided by Rep. Cole’s office.

For instance, the bill would establish both the Tribal Broadband Interagency Working Group to improve coordination across federal broadband programs and reduce deployment barriers, create a Tribal Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, and establish the Tribal Broadband Right-of-Way Pilot Program.

Additionally, H.R. 5850 would authorize federal funding grants to deploy broadband on tribal lands and would streamline the grant application process for such funds, the summary says.

The comprehensive bill also would require technical assistance be provided to underserved Native American communities that are interested in developing a broadband deployment plan, among other provisions, according to the summary.