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Gila River Indian Community awarded a $4.4 million dollar grant to expand broadband

By: - May 17, 2022 11:27 am

Photo by Dreamlike Street | Unsplash

The Gila River Indian Community received a $4.4 million dollar grant to help improve access to and use of broadband internet service among tribal citizens.

The network expansion will assist in telehealth, distance learning, affordable internet service, economic growth and digital inclusion efforts, according to the grant application. 

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“This $4.4 million in funding is vital for the Community, because it will allow us to take the next steps toward 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 to create opportunities for all of our members to utilize technology in their everyday lives, whether that is for work, school, healthcare, or just to stay connected to each other,” he added.

GRIC was one of 19 tribes across 10 states to receive a federal grant, and the only tribe in Arizona. 

The funds are from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, which allotted millions in federal grants to be used to improve broadband for tribal communities.

“The grants will fund broadband use and adoption projects to improve healthcare, workforce development, education, housing, and social services in tribal communities,” the press release states.

GRIC Councilman James De La Rosa said in a press release that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted broadband and technology deficiencies in rural districts.

“At a time when the pandemic forced us into our homes for school, work, and our everyday activities, the technology deficiencies became 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 it will help to create the infrastructure we need to put in place the comprehensive, integrated plan that we have long envisioned.”

Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis spoke via video conference as part of a panel discussing climate change at the White House Tribal Nations Summit. Screenshot via WhiteHouse.gov

The grants were awarded by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

“For far too long, Tribal Communities have been cut off from the benefits of high-speed internet, as well as the associated economic benefits that come with it,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo said in a press release.

“From running a business to taking online classes to scheduling a doctor’s appointment, the internet is a necessary tool for participating in our modern economy, and it’s an absolute injustice that this resource has been deprived from so many Native Americans across our country,” she added. 

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is funded through 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 Law and $65 billion investment to expand broadband in communities across the U.S.

“Affordable access to the Internet opens a world of life-saving technologies, economic opportunities, remote 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 is playing a crucial role in closing the digital divide and expanding internet to tribal communities across America,” he added. 

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration alongside the Gila River Indian Community announced the grant funding during a press conference on May 4.

Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego participated in the press conference and called the grant critical to improving technology across Indian Country. 

“The pandemic 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 press release. 

“NTIA’s announcement and the Gila River Indian Community’s leadership under Governor Lewis is a critical step to closing this gap, improving connectivity, and removing burdensome barriers to health care, education, and economic opportunity,” he added.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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