Senate Committee Hearing on the “Digital Divide”

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Hearing addresses improving native communities’ access to telephone and digital services.

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The U.S Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on April 5, 2011, focused on providing broader access to telephone and digital services in Native American communities.

Senator Dan Inouye (D-HI), a member of the committee, presided over the hearing.  Inouye explained that “less than 70 percent of tribal lands have basic telephone service compared to the national average of approximately 98 percent,” and of course even fewer have access to broadband and wireless technology. This lack of access impedes native communities’ ability to communicate with other parts of the country, raising concerns about lost employment and educational opportunities as well as diminished quality to essential services like law enforcement.

In the hearing, Myron Naneng, President of the Association of Village Council Presidents, noted that native communities not only lack reliable cell phone and internet access, but also have little choice in service providers.

Geoffrey Blackwell, Chief of the FCC’s new Office of Native Affairs and Policy, told the Committee that the FCC has worked hard to build lasting relationships with native nations and resolve telecommunications and connectivity issues. Blackwell explained that the FCC’s strategy has been to foster direct “government to government” dialogue so as to empower native nations to provide services to their communities themselves.