Facilitating Rural Broadband in Indian Country
"Americans need access to reliable, affordable, broadband Internet service to succeed in today’s information-driven global economy" - President Donald J. Trump, January 8, 2018
Ensuring Broadband in BIE Schools
Connecting Indian Country and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funded schools to broadband and energy transmission throughout reservations, pueblos, villages, and communities is a priority of Indian Affairs and the BIE. On January 8, 2018, the President signed Executive Order 13821, Streamlining and Expediting Requests to Locate Broadband Facilities in Rural America to improve internet and broadband services in rural and Tribal communities that will support education and healthcare as well as boost economic opportunities across the country.
On February 2, 2018, the FCC Broadband Development Report stated that approximately 1.2 million Americans living on Tribal lands still lack mobile LTE broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps.
The BIE implements federal Indian education programs and funds 183 elementary and secondary day and boarding schools as well as peripheral dormitories located on 64 reservations in 23 states. BIE also operates two post-secondary schools and administers grants for tribal colleges and universities and technical colleges. BIE’s mission is to provide quality educational opportunities from early childhood through life in accordance with a tribe’s needs for cultural and economic well-being, in keeping with the wide diversity of Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages as distinct cultural and governmental entities.
Broadband capabilities/connectivity is critical to the BIE as its information technology (IT) infrastructure includes the wide area network and general support system used by BIE-funded schools. This infrastructure supports the ability to provide standards-based connectivity, security, content delivery, web services, distance learning, wireless communication, email access, and education application access for all BIE school networks.
BIE’s Education IT funding also provides support for the BIE student information data system. The system provides school management software, training, and system support for management of student academic program data. This centralized database manages records such as enrollment, attendance, behavior, class schedules, grades, assessments, teacher grade books, health and immunization data, special education needs, transcripts, parent contact information, and student demographics for all students in BIE-funded schools.
Increasing Bandwidth in BIE Schools
Broadband connectivity makes it possible for educators and students to access innovative resources, and collaborate with experts worldwide. Starting in school year 2014-2015, online testing requirements have strained the capacity of BIE’s Education Native American II (ENAN II) network. As of March 31, 2018, 73 BIE schools served by ENAN II have bandwidth that meets the definition of broadband. The FCC uses a speed benchmark of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload as the minimum requirement for the definition of broadband. To ensure sufficient broadband access for K-12 learning and improved school operations, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) has provided minimum bandwidth targets for connectivity; they are:
|Broadband Access for Teaching, Learning and School Operations||2014-2015 School Year Target||2017-2018 School Year Target|
|An external Internet connection to the Internet Service provider (ISP)||At least 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff||At least 1 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff|
|Internal wide area network (WAN) connections from the district to each school and among schools within the district||At least 1 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff||At least 10 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff|
However, due to geographical isolation and because many BIE schools have fewer than 1,000 students and staff, BIE created an interim goal of 10 Mbps per 100 students and staff, as a minimum, to track progress as it works to implement the full SETDA standard at all BIE schools. Challenges in providing broadband access to BIE schools include the remote locations of the schools and limited carriers available in those remote locations. These challenges often make bandwidth upgrades last more than a year. However, for every school not meeting the minimum speed, BIE, and its Indian Affairs partners, work to secure resources and funding, such as eRate, to assist with construction and address tribal permitting jurisdictional issues to improve access to rights-of-way.
In addition to working with the General Services Administration and the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) on contract modifications to increase bandwidth at the local level, the BIE has participated in the FCC’s E-rate program since its inception. This has allowed the BIE to receive funding from the E-rate program. This funding, in the form of credits, is used to extend the purchasing power of the flat BIE circuit budget and add additional bandwidth to BIE schools.
The BIE works consistently with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which possesses the jurisdiction to approve rights-of-ways and leases for broadband development on Indian Trust land and individual restricted lands, ensuring the legal minimum consent is received from the Indian Tribe and/or Indian individuals. With the unique ownership of Indian Trust property, the BIA follows all laws and regulations for rights-of-ways and leases across Indian land, as it may be complex in many cases.
For the Department of the Interior more generally, Secretary David Bernhardt’s broadband initiative to bring these necessary utilities to rural communities aligns with all aspects of Indian Affairs’ trust relationship to Indian Tribes and individuals associated with management and protection of trust and restricted lands, natural resources, and real estate services. From healthcare, to economic opportunities, to educating the children in our rural communities, this initiative will only be beneficial to our stakeholders.