Ryan Brady / EyeEm via Getty Images

Digital Divide: Tribal Communities Undercounted, Underserved

Gaps in digital access and poor data quality disproportionately affect already underserved native communities, one expert says.

When broadband fails to reach indigenous tribes, the result is not only a lack of connectivity but also a scarcity of data that essentially masks their needs from the government, according to one expert. 

The digital divide disproportionately affects underserved populations, and for tribal communities it is exacerbated by jurisdictional challenges, geographic coverage limitations and a lack of affordability, Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute (AIPI), said in a recent webinar hosted by the Center for Data Innovation. 

The rugged, rural nature of tribal lands poses challenges to broadband deployment. Some tribes live among mountains, in forests or remote areas, which makes it difficult to install necessary infrastructure and technologies. 

A limited number of technically trained individuals to construct and maintain networks is another obstacle to broadband deployment, Morris said, as are rights of way issues that are complicated by the presence of multiple jurisdictions on the land, including tribal, state and county agencies. “Anything tribal has to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs after it’s gone through all the other approvals, which can take time,” Morris said. 

It’s not just broadband infrastructure that’s lacking.

During the panel, experts discussed how the absence of technology and even staff on tribal lands restricts the amount of their information that can be gathered about native communities compared with other areas of the country, creating data divides. When American Indians and Native Alaskans are undercounted by the census, for example, their needs are too, according to the Center for Data Innovation’s recent report on the data divide. 

Despite funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to increase digital access and broadband on indigenous lands, “government officials cannot effectively grasp the scope of the problem,” because of inadequate data, the report said. Additionally, “tribal areas are often left out of geospatial mapping performed by broadband providers, which means getting an accurate picture of connectivity is nearly impossible,” it stated. As a consequence, “insufficient and ineffective resource allocation exists for broadband on tribal reservations.”

With 574 federally recognized tribes ranging from New York to Wyoming, proper data collection and assessment is challenging, especially when communities are “not comparable in terms of language, location, customs or any of that,” Morris said in the webinar. 

Gathering data on tribes  “would mean creating a relationship with each tribe to find out what entity had any data, and whether or not they could collect that data, and whether or not that data was proprietary,” she added in an interview.

Morris and fellow researchers have already faced challenges to comprehensive data collection on tribes. Due to the small population numbers, some organizations such as the Pew Research Center have forgone research on native groups because of their small numbers and limited sample sizes.

Information reported by telecommunication carriers used by federal entities such as the Federal Communications Commission, may also contribute to data discrepancies because of how inflated it is. For instance, a carrier may report an entire ZIP code as covered by broadband even if there is only one household that actually has service. 

There have been efforts to improve the situation, Morris said. In Temecula, California, last summer representatives from various tribes met up to learn about broadband installation for the first tribal wireless bootcamp. The session focused on building, maintaining and troubleshooting wireless networks. Tribal broadband bootcamps are slated to continue next year as well. 

Last year the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which will award nearly $1 billion in funds that would help “deploy broadband infrastructure, establish affordable broadband programs, and support digital inclusion across Indian Country to lessen the digital divide,” the announcement said.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.