Study: Many tribal libraries lack broadband

At least two-fifths of Native American libraries don’t have broadband Internet access, according to a study released this month, though the actual number could be as high as 89 percent.

Additionally, just 42 percent of libraries surveyed for the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums’ annual study provided technology training, compared to 90 percent of all public libraries. Just 34 percent of the tribal libraries had a website.

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The findings add fuel to the fear of a “digital divide” that prevents people on Native American reservations from benefiting from new technology.

“As community anchor institutions, tribal libraries are often the only source of free access to the Internet and public computers, yet they are struggling to meet an ever-growing demand for more broadband capacity, better equipment and training programs vital to building digitally inclusive communities,” association President Susan Feller said in a statement. 

“This study is a first step in bringing key stakeholders together to efficiently and effectively address the digital divide in Indian country," she added.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that less than 10 percent of people on tribal lands have high-speed broadband access, as opposed to the nearly two-thirds of people nationwide who have access.

Earlier this year, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Don Young (R-Alaska) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) called for a federal study of tribal communications services and ways that federal, state and local governments can bridge the divide. Lawmakers said that they were “deeply concerned” by the lack of access even to basic phone service, which more than 30 percent of tribal households still lack, they claimed.