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Secretary Raimondo Joins New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham, Sen. Luján, and Rep. Leger Fernández For Listening Session on Broadband Expansion With Navajo Nation President Nez

Discussion builds upon prior consultative feedback regarding NTIA’s development of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo participated in a virtual listening session with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and other Navajo officials on the barriers to reaching one hundred percent broadband access across the Navajo Nation. The conversation was moderated by U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján, and Raimondo was joined by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández. Additionally, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland delivered pre-recorded remarks on the seriousness of the digital divide for Indian Country and addressing it in tribal communities through partnership and collaboration.

“Broadband access is not a luxury – it’s a necessity, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide in Indian Country,” said Secretary Raimondo. “I am committed to ensuring that the Department brings the full weight of its resources to accelerate broadband infrastructure deployment in partnership with the Navajo Nation. Today’s discussion is another step in the regular, meaningful, and robust consultation that the Department will continue to have with President Nez.”

“We thank Sec. Raimondo and Sen. Luján for convening this timely roundtable discussion to highlight broadband needs and priorities,” said President Nez. “When layering broadband issues with the lack of adequate transportation, electricity, and water for many Navajo families, the end result is a reduced quality of life, especially in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. This, in turn, contributes to our lower life expectancy, disproportionate disease burden, inadequate education, high poverty, and overall poor social and economic conditions. Broadband connectivity is essential for online learning, emergency responders, tele-medicine, and many other critical areas. Our roundtable discussion highlighted these issues and reaffirmed a shared commitment to work together to close the digital divide for the Navajo Nation and underserved communities everywhere.”

“Everyone should have access to wireless broadband internet, but for generations, a lack of investment in infrastructure in Indian Country has left Tribes further behind in the digital divide than most areas of the country,” said Secretary Haaland in her remarks. “No kid should have to bear the burdens of poverty, and no community should be left behind in the digital world. We have a responsibility as a country to build infrastructure that will fuel economic development, provide public safety, and ensure everyone has opportunities to succeed. At Interior, we’re committed to honoring our trust and treaty obligations to Tribes and conducting robust consultation when we make decisions. We’ll be working in partnership with the Commerce Department to expand broadband access for all communities.”

“As our country recovers and rebuilds from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial that Congress makes bold infrastructure investments to bridge the digital divide and ensure 100 percent connectivity in places like the Navajo Nation and rural and Tribal communities. I was honored to co-host today’s roundtable with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Navajo Nation leadership to discuss how we can work together to deploy broadband,” said Senator Luján, a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs. “As a longtime champion for bolstering broadband across America, I look forward to working the Biden-Harris administration to address these longstanding challenges.”

“Native American Communities, like everyone else, rely on access to affordable, high-speed broadband for health services, business development, education, and so much more. Unfortunately, we know that Navajo and other Native Americans communities lack this essential infrastructure. In Congress, we want to change that. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which I proudly co-sponsored and hope will become part of the American Jobs Plan, will break down barriers that have historically reduced access to broadband funding for Tribal communities,” said Congresswoman Leger Fernández. “I am honored to join today’s panel to discuss how we can work together to bring high-speed internet to unserved and underserved parts of the Navajo Nation.”

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has been engaging in Tribal Consultation and listening sessions since February on the development of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP). NTIA has received critical feedback from the Navajo Nation and numerous other Tribal Nations regarding its development of the program. The TBCP received $1 billion in funding from Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 to deploy broadband infrastructure and establish affordable broadband programs across Indian Country to lessen the digital divide.

“The pandemic has cast a spotlight on the urgent need to provide rural and indigenous communities with high quality, reliable and affordable internet access,” said Governor Lujan Grisham. “The $1 billion Tribal Connectivity Program provides us with an opportunity to directly address this digital divide for the Navajo Nation and other tribal communities, enabling the expansion of broadband infrastructure to further support economic development, distance learning and telehealth.”

“NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program will provide a great opportunity for Navajo to address connectivity issues for the Navajo Nation schools, chapter houses and other government facilities, and provide a new gate way for the Navajo people to conduct commerce and work force development in a digital economy,” Raimondo continued. “But in order to fully close the digital divide across Indian Country and the U.S., we will need an even greater investment in broadband. President Biden has proposed $100 billion in the American Jobs Plan to finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage, with funds set aside for infrastructure on tribal lands with robust tribal consultation.”