Feds award Sault Tribe, Bay Mills $500k each to expand broadband service ⋆
Two Ojibwe tribes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are set to receive nearly $1 million total, as part of a federal agency’s ongoing program to expand high-speed Internet access in tribal communities.
The Bay Mills Indian Community and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians will receive $599,850 and $500,000, respectively. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency housed in the U.S. Department of Commerce, announced the grants Tuesday alongside 10 other recipient tribes across the country.
The need for telecommunications expansion in Indigenous communities is “overwhelming,” said Adam Geisler, director of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program and a citizen of the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians in southern California.
“This program is popular in Indian Country because it’s about serving tribes in the way that they want to be served,” Geisler told the Advance on Monday.
The tribes will be the third in Michigan to receive the grants. The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, located in Calhoun County, previously received about $1.2 million for broadband expansion.
About 146,000 tribal households nationwide are being connected so far with the program.
The program is the first of its kind and was launched in 2021 via the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Geisler said that when applications opened for the first 90-day window in June 2021, the agency received more than 300 applications that represented “about three-quarters of Indian Country.”
Congress initially appropriated $1 billion to the program. With the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in fall 2021, $2 billion more were added.
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“The NTIA Connectivity Program has only begun to address the broadband disparities in Indian Country,” said Bay Mills President Whitney Gravelle.
“With these funds, Bay Mills Indian Community looks forward to beginning the long process to upgrading critical information technology infrastructure within our rural community. Tribal Nations provide many critical services to multiple surrounding communities and populations, and as such Tribal Nations should also be empowered to provide broadband,” Gravelle said.
In Bay Mills, the money will go toward completing a Network Operations Center as a precursor to a future fiber-to-the-premises project. The Sault Tribe will use the funds to support the cost of prepaid broadband service for more than 1,000 tribal households in one year.
Along with Bay Mills and the Sault Tribe, 10 more tribes located in California, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin will also receive new funds to expand Internet access. The amounts range from $355,000 to $500,000.
In total, the NTIA has now granted 147 awards amounting to $1.67 billion.
“Reliable internet is critical to keeping our communities connected and strong,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.). “That’s why I’m proud to have supported the legislation providing this funding to lay the groundwork for expanding high-speed internet in these communities, which will help ensure tribal members can access telehealth and educational and economic opportunities.”
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authored by Laina G. Stebbins
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