August 19, 2019

Luján, FCC Commissioner Starks Tour San Felipe Pueblo to Discuss Broadband Expansion

San Felipe Pueblo, N.M. – On Friday, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the U.S. House Assistant Speaker, and Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks led discussions with community leaders on efforts to close the digital divide and increase broadband access in New Mexico.
 
Meeting with government officials, community leaders, and New Mexicans at the San Felipe and Santo Domingo libraries, Luján, Starks, and Lt. Governor John Duran viewed how broadband access benefits youth coding, language, and adult education courses offered by the libraries.
 
This community engagement visit comes as Luján, community leaders, and the Middle Rio Grande Pueblo Tribal Consortium put forward solutions to address New Mexico’s connectivity challenges.  In New Mexico, less than half of rural New Mexicans have access to high-speed, fixed broadband. For tribal communities, only 35 percent of tribal residents have access to fixed broadband. This has massive implications on New Mexico’s economy, education, and opportunities.
 
Last month, Luján introduced a broadband investment package to provide $5 billion in federal funding for low-interest financing to support broadband infrastructure deployment, including in rural communities, and require improved mapping of communities’ access to broadband.
 
“The digital divide leaves tribal communities without access to high-speed Internet – disconnected from a world of opportunity for students, families, and businesses.  Broadband connectivity can make all the difference for the education, public safety, and economic opportunities, which is why I’m fighting to get this legislation passed for New Mexico families,” said Assistant Speaker Luján. “I am thankful for the opportunity to join Lt. Governor John Duran, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, and the Middle Rio Grande Pueblo Tribal Consortium to discuss how all parties are working to connect New Mexico."
 
“The persistent digital divide is hardening into a state of internet inequality that risks robbing individuals of their dignity and disconnecting communities from the economy. This dynamic is, perhaps, most pronounced in Tribal communities. I appreciated the opportunity to visit some of these communities with Congressman Luján and learn more about the challenges they face,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “I look forward to continuing to work with Congressman Luján as we seek to put an end to internet inequality and bring broadband connectivity to every corner of New Mexico, and the rest of the country.”

“We have truly exercised tribal sovereignty. Instead of waiting for an Internet Service Provider to connect us, we built our own high-speed Internet connections. The Pueblos have shown other tribes how to be their own solution to the digital divide,” said Governor Joe Aguilar, Santo Domingo Pueblo. 

“The broadband connectivity brings new distance learning potential, for tribal members completing GEDs, enrolling, in higher education, or with our Pueblo schools, such as the Santa Fe Indian School, who use technology for Native language revitalization,” said Governor Eugene Herrera, Pueblo de Cochiti. “We can now provide the education that is appropriate for our students, and that is on par with the mainstream.” 
 
“In the year that we have had the high-speed Internet, the number of library patrons visiting the tribal library has doubled. We are more than ever a critical computing center for our community,” said Alissa Chavez-Lowe, Education Director, San Felipe Pueblo.
 
“The Tribal library lies in the heart of the Pueblo and provides computer services when our homes often lack computers, let alone affordable Internet access. Connecting the library connects the community,” said Cynthia Aguilar, Librarian, Santo Domingo Pueblo. “Every member needs digital tools, including our many artisans who need to submit high-resolution photos for shows. Without the library, they would have to drive as far as an hour away to a Kinkos.”

 “I thought that we would connect the libraries and walk away, done, and satisfied. I know now that this is beginning. Our new goal is to connect the 19 Pueblos, the other tribal nations in New Mexico, and to help all of rural New Mexico where we can. Twenty-three states have statewide education networks. It is time for New Mexico to be the 24th,” said Kimball Sekaquaptewa, CTO, Santa Fe Indian School & Chair, Middle Rio Grande Pueblo Tribal Consortium.

The Middle Rio Grande Pueblo Tribal Consortium includes the four Tribal libraries in the Pueblos of Santa Ana, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, and Cochiti. Awarded in March of 2017, the $4.2 million projects received an FCC Schools and Libraries E-Rate subsidy of $3.9 million. It was the largest E-Rate awarded in the state of New Mexico for 2016. Along with their sister project, in the Pueblos of Jemez and Zia, these two projects are the first and only Tribal projects of their kind nationally since the launch of the E-Rate modernization order. 
 
The FCC Schools and Libraries Program, known as E-rate, provides discounts to assist most schools and libraries in obtaining high-speed internet access and telecommunications. While most of the nation’s public libraries have received E-rate support, only an estimated 15 percent of Tribal libraries receive E-rate funds.
 
Congressman Luján previously introduced legislation to provide wireless Internet on school buses to help close the “homework gap.” Currently, millions of students need access to the Internet to complete their school assignments but lack access at home. This gap especially impacts low-income, rural, and tribal students who must find other ways to get online to complete their homework. Luján’s legislation would allow the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program to reimburse schools that place wi-fi technology on school buses carrying students.