WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) delivered the following remarks at a committee oversight hearing on “The Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report on ‘Telecommunications: Additional Coordination and Performance Measurement Needed for High-Speed Internet Access Programs on Tribal Lands.’”
The hearing featured testimony from Mr. Brandon McBride, administrator for the Rural Utility Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Ms. Gigi B. Sohn, counselor to the chairman at the Federal Communications Commission; Mr. Mark Goldstein, director for physical infrastructure issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office; Ms. Julie Kitka, president at the Alaska Federation of Natives; and Mr. Godfrey Enjady, president of the National Tribal Telecommunications Association.
Click here for more information on the witnesses’ testimony and to watch video of the entire hearing.
Click here to watch Sen. Barrasso’s remarks.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“Today we will examine the January 2016 Government Accountability Office Report on access to broadband service on tribal lands.
“Quick and effective internet access is vital for many purposes such as commerce, public safety, education, and health.
“This committee has received concerns from people living in rural Indian lands including in my home state of Wyoming, regarding unreliable internet service and significant barriers to improving access to even basic internet services in their communities.
“The Government Accountability Office Report describes how unreliable internet can affect business development, education and health.
“In 2010, at the direction of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission issued the National Broadband Plan to achieve access to high speed internet for everyone.
“Between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, the federal government spent approximately $33 billion on the national goal of universal high speed internet access.
“It is somewhat troubling, that is quite a bit of money has been spent on this national goal and Indian tribal governments and communities still struggle to access internet services.
“In many instances, networks cannot accommodate multiple users on Indian lands.
“The GAO highlighted one tribal example where connection problems caused significant problems with heavily congested networks.
“According to the Federal Communications Commission, in 2016, 41 percent of the people on tribal lands still do not have access to high speed broadband. This figure should be much lower.
“The GAO report sheds some light on why this figure may be significantly higher than other parts of the nation.
“The GAO found that the two agencies with responsibility for broadband-related programs—the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Communications Commission—do not coordinate well in programs, in outreach, or in training.
“In addition, the GAO found that as of December, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission had not established performance measures or goals for broadband availability on tribal lands.
“The GAO made several recommendations for improvement, including developing goals and measures to track progress.
“We will hear today how both agencies are moving forward to increasing broadband services for Indian communities.”