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Remarks by Secretary Gina M. Raimondo at the NTIA Tribal Broadband Grant Announcement

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Thank you, Vice President Harris, for that introduction and for your amazing leadership on this important issue. And thank you President Holsey and Secretary Haaland for your leadership as well.

When COVID-19 lockdowns began, schools across America quickly switched to online education. But last month I met with leaders from the Navajo Nation and learned that many of their children couldn’t attend online classes because they lacked access to broadband. Instead, they’d have paper lessons delivered to them by a school bus. They didn’t have virtual interactions with teachers or classmates. Just pieces of paper. Students at other tribal-serving schools had to drive for miles to find a strong enough internet connection to be able to participate in class.

In the 21st century economy, broadband access and affordability isn’t a luxury – it’s essential to everyday life. Yet, tribal lands too often lack basic cell service. And only half their residents have fixed-home internet service.

Clearly, the high-speed broadband that many of us take for granted is still out of reach for too many Americans − disproportionally those who are non-white and low-income.

The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to building back a better, more equitable economy where no one is left behind.

As we recover from the pandemic, now is the time for historic investments to bring affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American. That’s why President Biden proposed $100 billion in the American Jobs Plan to fully close the digital divide across the nation. 

And as Vice President Harris announced, today we are taking steps to execute on that goal by providing $980 million in grants to expand broadband to unserved and underserved tribal lands. These grants will help tribal communities participate more fully in today’s modern economy. Grants will be available to eligible Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian entities for broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth and distance learning.

Our team at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, will ensure the funds are distributed equitably so that no tribe is left out.  Because a healthy and successful Indian Country economy is at the heart of a prosperous American economy.

Federal resources are a critical part of closing the digital divide. But partnerships play a big role, too. In April, the Department of Commerce hosted a Tribal Consultation with more than 100 participants, to learn how we can further tribal self-determination and sovereignty.

I’m also proud that we are joined today by President Shannon Holsey. We need more tribal voices like hers at the table to get the job done. And I look forward to continuing our engagement with tribal partners moving forward.

As Secretary of Commerce, I am committed to ensuring broadband access across Indian Country. Because as Vice President Harris said, “when people are cut off from high speed internet, they are also cut off from opportunity.”

And at Commerce, our mission is to create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity – for all Americans. These broadband grants will do just that.

I’ll turn it over now to my colleague, Secretary Haaland, who is doing a tremendous job facilitating rural broadband expansion on federal properties managed by the Department of the Interior.

Leadership