Sixth Annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit to Address North America Broadband Gap

With Indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada lacking access to fast, affordable Internet, a newly established Indigenous-led organization will lead the push for digital equity.

  • Internet Society

 

WASHINGTON-- The Internet Society, in partnership with Connect Humanity, will co-host the sixth annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit, bringing together Indigenous community members and leaders, network operators, researchers, and policymakers with a common goal: connecting Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada to fast, affordable, and sustainable Internet.

Indigenous communities are among the most underserved in terms of Internet access in North America. Less than one quarter of Indigenous Communities in Canada have access to broadband speeds; in the U.S. 18 percent of Tribal reservations have no access at all. However, following the COVID-19 pandemic, both the Canadian and U.S. federal governments have committed billions of dollars in funding to close the connectivity gap in these communities.

It is vital that Indigenous people are involved at all stages – from development through implementation – of broadband projects that directly affect their communities. It is why this year's summit marks a significant milestone, as it transitions to a truly community-led event, under the aegis of the newly created Indigenous Connectivity Institute.

Established by Connect Humanity, the Indigenous Connectivity Institute was formed to ensure Indigenous communities have the capacity, support, knowledge, and financial resources needed to drive digital equity solutions in their respective communities, on their own terms, and under their own leadership. It is led by an advisory committee of Indigenous connectivity advocates from across the United States and Canada, including many past summit participants.

"The Internet Society has been organizing the Indigenous Connectivity Summit since 2017, but it has always been our goal to transition leadership of the event to the Indigenous communities themselves. Partnering with Connect Humanity and the Indigenous Connectivity Institute will further the goal of developing community-led solutions that will bridge the digital divide for Indigenous people across North America," said Sharayah Lane, Senior Advisor, Community Connectivity at the Internet Society and advisory committee member of the Indigenous Connectivity Institute.

The summit will be held in-person, from October 24th through October 28th, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and will feature workshops, presentations, lightning talks and panel discussions on a number of issues Indigenous communities face as they work to access the Internet on their own terms. Topics include broadband mapping, spectrum sovereignty, building off-grid networks and capacity building, among others. An important outcome of the summit will be a set of policy recommendations jointly developed by participants that will guide advocacy efforts moving forward. These recommendations will be released in the weeks following the event, and, if implemented would support Indigenous communities to drive their own connectivity solutions under their own leadership.

The COVID-19 pandemic shined a glaring light on the vast number of underserved communities that are unable to access or afford reliable broadband, spurring government action. In the United States, the 2020 CARES Act earmarked $1 billion for broadband infrastructure improvements on Indian reservations; the American Rescue Plan Act allocated $17 billion nationwide for broadband improvements; and the 2022 Infrastructure Act directed $2B for a Tribal Broadband Connectivity Fund.

Canada, however, lags behind. While the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's Broadband Fund has increased to CAD$750 million over five years to bring Canadians up to speed, it still isn't enough. The last round of applications alone received nearly 600 submissions totaling over $1.5 billion in funding requests.

"Following the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. and Canadian governments, as well as the philanthropic community, are finally starting to invest in closing connectivity gaps which disproportionately impact Indigenous communities," said Mark Buell, Director of Indigenous Programs for Connect Humanity. "But to make sure these funds are targeted toward the communities that need it most, Indigenous people need to be at the center of the development of policies, funding programs and infrastructure projects that affect their communities. The Indigenous Connectivity Institute is building the knowledge, community, and advocacy capacity so that Indigenous Peoples can build a digital future on their terms. And this year's summit will shape policy that will help turn the tide on decades of under-investment in Indigenous communities."

Driving Change in North America

The Internet Society, a global nonprofit organization working to promote an open, globally connected, secure and trustworthy Internet, established the Indigenous Connectivity Summit in 2017. Over the past six years, the summit has evolved beyond a gathering of stakeholders to become a strong, community-led movement focused on finding, advocating, and building practical solutions to improve access in Indigenous communities across North America.

The summit has had consequential impact to date:

It has trained 350+ participants as part of both the pre-summit Community Networks and the Policy Advocacy trainings. The summit has also introduced new network training opportunities, including the Tribal Broadband Bootcamp, which has trained 100 Indigenous leaders on building networks in their own communities.

Since 2017, the summit has issued 90 policy recommendations, along with inclusive federal and regulatory guidelines for applicants, which have been reflected in such reports, policies and legislation as the 2019 Arctic Council's report Improving Connectivity in the Arctic, rural development strategies and funding criteria in government programs in Canada and the United States.

Eighteen Indigenous Community Networks have been supported in both the United States and Canada, including Pu'uhonua o Waimanalo in Hawai'i, and projects in progress in Winnipeg's North End and in Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories.

In 2020, the Internet Society assisted tribes navigating the Tribal Priority Window (TPW), providing free advice and support to tribes, including webinars and application walk-throughs. More than 400 tribes applied for a license through the TPW, and as of August 2021, 270 tribes have been issued licenses.

In 2019, the summit was recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives for "working to strengthen the digital bonds between America's Native communities."

Registration for the summit is open; it will be the first in-person event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but will be streamed live online for those unable to be there.

Learn more about the 2022 Indigenous Connectivity Summit here.

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