Published on May 17, 2022 at 11:30 a.m.
The Gila River Indian Community has received a $4.4 million grant to help improve broadband Internet service access and usage among tribal citizens.
The network expansion will contribute to telehealth, distance learning, affordable internet services, economic growth and digital inclusion efforts, according to the grant application.
“This $4.4 million in funding is vital to the community as it will allow us to take the next steps towards digital equity,” Gila River Governor Stephen Roe Lewis said in a press release.
“We plan to expand access to affordable broadband programs throughout the community and create opportunities for all of our members to use technology in their daily lives, whether for work, school, healthcare or just to stay connected to each other,” he added.
The GRIC was one of 19 tribes in 10 states to receive a federal grant and the only tribe in Arizona.
The funds come from the Biden administration’s U.S. bailout, which allocated millions in federal grants to be used to improve broadband for tribal communities.
“The grants will fund broadband use and adoption projects to improve health care, workforce development, education, housing and social services in tribal communities,” says the press release.
GRIC Councilman James De La Rosa said in a news release that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed broadband and technology gaps in rural districts.
“At a time when the pandemic has forced us to return home for school, work and our daily activities, the technological gaps have become all too apparent,” De La Rosa said.
“The $4.4 million grant coupled with the Community’s long-term plans for broadband connectivity, education and training, De La Rosa said will help create the infrastructure we have need to put in place the comprehensive and integrated plan that we have long envisioned. ”
The grants were awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce under the Tribal Broadband Connectivity program.
“For too long, tribal communities have been cut off from the benefits of high-speed internet, and the economic benefits that come with it,” US Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo said in a press release.
“From running a business to taking online classes to booking doctor appointments, the internet is a necessary tool to participate in our modern economy, and it is an absolute injustice that this resource has been deprived of so many Native Americans across our country,” she said. added.
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity program is funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and provides grants for broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.
An additional $2 billion in funding was provided to the program as part of Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure act and a $65 billion investment to expand broadband in communities across the United States.
“Affordable access to the internet unlocks a world of vital technologies, economic opportunities, distance learning and countless other essential benefits,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, in A press release.
“Our Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program plays a critical role in bridging the digital divide and expanding the internet to tribal communities across America,” he added.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration alongside the Gila River Indian Community announced the grant funding at a May 4 press conference.
Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego attended the press conference and called the grant essential to improving technology throughout Indian Country.
“The pandemic has underscored the critical need for increased broadband access in communities across Arizona, especially in Indian Country, where citizens have historically been the most disconnected,” Gallego said in a news release.
“NTIA’s announcement and the leadership of the Gila River Indian community under Governor Lewis is a critical step in closing this gap, improving connectivity and removing burdensome barriers to health care, education and to economic opportunities,” he added.
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