TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation is working to improve access to quality, affordable broadband for its citizens throughout the reservation boundaries with a new grant and with leadership advocating for Indian Country on a number of federal broadband advisory boards.

The tribe is among 23 federally recognized tribes receiving a $50,000 broadband grant to evaluate broadband expansion within their communities. The National Tribal Broadband Grant was awarded from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Indian Affairs Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development to conduct a broadband feasibility study of the most rural parts of the Cherokee Nation.

With the funding, Cherokee Nation and other tribal recipients can hire qualified consulting firms to research the potential implementation and expansion opportunities for broadband throughout its communities.

“More than half of the Cherokee Nation reservation is made up of rural communities. Hundreds of Cherokee families reside in areas that lack adequate access to the internet,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance and need for our communities to have reliable high-speed internet allowing us to disseminate vital service and safety communications. In recent months Cherokee Nation Health Services has vastly expanded its use of telemedicine and teledentistry, and Cherokees across the world are consistently engaging online in an effort to stay connected to our community, culture, heritage and language. This grant will allow us to partner with the best consultants to help us enhance and expand broadband capabilities that will change how Cherokees communicate for decades.”

The National Tribal Broadband program was created to help boost economic development and self-employment opportunities as well as enhance educational remote learning opportunities and other emergency communication capacities by bringing broadband services to Native American communities that lack them.  This allows the tribe to hire a private consulting or engineering firm to conduct broadband feasibility studies. The study can include assessing current broadband services that are already available in certain communities; engineering evaluations of new and expanded broadband services; estimates of the cost of building and expanding broadband networks; determination of the transmission mediums to be employed, through digital subscriber line, cable modem, fiber, wireless, satellite and broadband-over-power lines; identification of potential funding and financing for networks; and consideration of financial and practical risks associated with developing broadband systems.

“With access to quality broadband, we can bridge the digital divide. This grant allows us to take a major step forward in our efforts to provide reliable broadband services across the Cherokee Nation reservation,” Cherokee Nation Government Relations Executive Director and Cherokee Nation Businesses Vice President of Government Relations Kim Teehee said. “With this ongoing pandemic, quality broadband will ensure the safety of Cherokee families, many of whom fall into the vulnerable population of being susceptible to the COVID-19 illness. Internet access will allow more elders to see a doctor through telehealth, more students to learn virtually, and more families to remain connected to the community. This grant also allows us to evaluate the existing infrastructure and services to make more informed decisions on how to best improve access for Cherokee citizens.”

Of the 55 applicants vying for the National Tribal Broadband grant, 23 proposals were selected. Submissions were rated largely on the potential positive impacts broadband could bring to their tribal community.

Cherokee Nation government officials are also working across various committees of the Federal Communications Commission to help strengthen broadband opportunities for Cherokee Nation communities and all of Indian Country.

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Tina Glory Jordan was recently appointed to the Federal Communications Commission’s Intergovernmental Advisory Committee. The advisory committee includes elected and appointed officials from municipal, county, state and tribal governments. The members provide guidance, expertise and recommendations to the Commission on telecommunication issues.

Jordan will serve on the advisory committee for a two-year term, with the option for the commission to reauthorize for an additional two-year period. She is one of four Native American tribal representatives to be appointed to the committee.

“It is truly an honor to have been selected to serve on the Federal Communications Commission advisory committee,” said Jordan. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to share some of the broadband issues we face here in the Cherokee Nation and how we are working to bridge those gaps. Native American communities across the country have unique needs in terms of modernizing their telecommunications infrastructure and I am excited to work alongside the other Native American representatives to help be a voice for quality and affordable broadband in Indian Country.”

Cherokee Nation Businesses Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President of Information Technology Todd Gourd, was also recently appointed to the Disaster Response and Recovery Working Group of the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, and Cherokee Nation Registrar Frankie Hargis currently serves on the FCC’s Native Nations Communications Task Force.