Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1-5-2021

Abstract

Broadband access is an important part of enhancing rural community development, improving the general quality of life. Recent telecommunications stimulus projects in the U.S. and Canada were intended to increase availability of broadband through funding infrastructure investments, largely in rural and remote regions. However, there are various small, remote, and rural communities, who remain unconnected. Connectivity is especially important for indigenous and tribal communities to access opportunities for various public services as they are generally located in remote areas. In 2016, the FCC reported that 41% of U.S. citizens living on tribal lands, and 68% of those in the rural areas of tribal lands, lacked access to broadband, and that the lack of service hindered tribal nations from building their internal structures for self-governance, economic opportunity, education, public safety, and cultural preservation. It is significant to study the indigenous and tribal communities to bridge the digital divide and bring transformative change to these communities. Our findings show some geographic, economic, technological, and generational challenges for connectivity, some unique uses of connectivity for cultural practices, and its impact on educational outcomes in these communities. Since the inception of Southern California Tribal Network, high school graduation has become radically more attainable in these communities due to additional resources made available via the Internet. Connected North promoted interactive Internet learning for students in remote regions to combat endemic local social issues such as a low graduation rate of approximately 20%, and the highest global per capita suicide rate among youth. The contribution of this study is three-fold. First, we identify the geographic, economic, technological, and political challenges for reliable connectivity among indigenous and tribal communities. Second, we show how some tribes and advocacy groups are handling the connectivity themselves, such as operating community networks and remote educational services. Third, we provide an overview of potential impacts of broadband, primarily at the social and educational levels among indigenous and tribal communities. This study suggests approaches for more sustainable connectivity facilities to remote Indigenous communities and reinforces the need for community-driven initiatives to ensure connectivity is conducted in a culturally and technically appropriate manner.

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