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Watchdog: Action Needed to Expand High-Speed Internet on ND Tribal Lands

A government watchdog is suggesting ways to improve high-speed Internet access for tribal and rural areas. (iStockphoto)
A government watchdog is suggesting ways to improve high-speed Internet access for tribal and rural areas. (iStockphoto)
February 8, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - The lack of access to high-speed Internet remains a big problem on tribal lands in North Dakota and across the country. A new report from the federal watchdog Government Accountability Office highlights serious barriers to setting up fast and reliable Internet connections in those areas.

Mark Goldstein physical infrastructure issues director for the GAO. His group interviewed 21 tribes, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota. They found high-speed Internet was available to only 37 percent of homes in tribal areas, compared with 92 percent in most urban areas.

"The Internet and broadband is a much more important tool, because of access for health care, for emergency services, or economic interests," says Goldstein. "There's a whole range of issues for which Americans need to access the Internet."

The report has several recommendations, including a push for better data collection and more coordination from the government agencies in charge of expanding Internet access to tribal lands.

The report also notes that the government provides what are called "E-rate" subsidies for Internet Service Providers, companies such as AT&T and Verizon, to set up connections in these areas. Goldstein suggests that the Federal Communications Commission could streamline that process for both the ISPs and tribal leaders.

"Because right now it's a pretty high administrative burden for a lot of tribes," he says. "They're unable to obtain monies that otherwise would probably be available to them, that would help them better institute these kinds of programs."

Goldstein says other challenges in expanding Internet access range from physical issues such as rough terrain, to social issues such as high poverty rates among Native Americans.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND