Wyden, Merkley Call on FCC Chairman to Expeditiously Address the Digital Divide in Indian Country

Washington, DC – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are calling on federal officials to expedite broadband connectivity to Native communities to improve access to telemedicine, online education, teleworking opportunities and other critical services in Oregon and nationwide during the pandemic. 

“We are concerned that under your leadership the Commission has not done enough to bridge the digital divide on Native lands, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 national health emergency,’’ Wyden, Merkley and 12 other senators wrote Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai.

“Now more than ever, broadband services are vital to providing and maintaining essential community services, including ensuring members have access to telemedicine, virtual learning, and teleworking capabilities.

“As you well know, the Commission is required by statute to ensure all Americans, including residents located on Native lands, have access to advanced telecommunications services in a ‘reasonable and timely fashion,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to utilize your authority to immediately take the following actions in furtherance of the federal trust responsibility and in recognition of the power Congress entrusted to the Commission to take necessary actions to ensure universal service. 

“These actions are within your authority and can be taken immediately to ensure that these communities have the resources necessary to manage through this pandemic, and prevent these communities from falling further behind,” they wrote.

According to the FCC, less than half of households on Tribal lands have access to fixed broadband service. This represents a nearly 27-point gap compared to non-Tribal rural areas. This gap only widens when compared to the country-wide average. In 2018, the FCC estimated that 35 percent of Americans living on

Tribal lands lacked access to broadband services, compared to eight percent of all Americans. 

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, other senators signing the letter are U.S. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Krysten Sinema (D-Nev.), Jon Tester (D-Mon.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

The entire letter is here.