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Statement of Associate Administrator Levy on the Status of Telecommunications in Indian Country

Statement of

Kelly Klegar Levy

Associate Administrator
Office of Policy Analysis and Development
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce

Before the

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Hearing on the Status of Telecommunications in Indian Country

May 22, 2003


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning, setting forth the views of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with respect to the role of the Federal government in addressing the telecommunications needs in Indian country.  NTIA serves as a principal adviser to the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Commerce on domestic and international telecommunications and information policy issues.

The Administration shares your interest in ensuring that telecommunications and information networks and services are available in Indian country.  Clearly, we face a unique set of challenges in Indian country. In general, these communities have low population densities as well as low incomes.  We have had difficulties with the data collection, research, and analysis that are needed to assess the telecommunications needs of American Indian communities. We need to determine the type of telecommunications technologies that would best serve the needs of these communities and be affordable. There are also questions as to whether existing telecommunications companies are serving the needs on Indian reservations, how to create and sustain tribal telecommunications companies, and what is the appropriate role of competition with tribal telecommunications companies. On all these issues, tribal input and consultation are critical.  We look forward to working together with Congress as well as with the tribes to bring the benefits of telecommunications and information services to these American Indian communities.

  The Department of Commerce has worked closely with American Indian and Alaskan Native communities for over 35 years.  The Department’s mission is to promote job creation and improved living standards for all Americans through economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development.  We work with tribal communities on critical economic issues, including economic development, infrastructure, and natural resource management.

NTIA understands the importance of Internet access for all Americans.  We have released a series of reports that profile Americans’ access to the Internet at home and outside the home and how different demographic groups use the Internet. Our most recent report, A Nation Online, which we co-authored with the Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, was released in February 2002 and analyzed Census data taken from 57,000 households.  We have been able to report the raw data for access to and use of computers and the Internet by “American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts (AIEA).”  Unfortunately, because of the small sample size of the American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut populations and the high costs of oversampling, we have been unable to obtain enough data points for these populations to run economic analysis and draw conclusions on this data in our reports.  Our next Census survey will be taken in October 2003, and we hope that the numbers will be large enough to provide a statistical baseline for measuring American Indians’ use of computers and the Internet.  We will be happy to share the findings of our next survey with this Committee and any other interested parties.

           At NTIA, we have worked to connect American Indian communities to advanced telecommunications services. The Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) has provided matching grants to non-profit institutions and state, local, and tribal governments to demonstrate ways to use advanced information technologies to provide access to public information and tribal government services, offer greater access to health care services and tribal cultural services, and provide job training and opportunities.  TOP grants often have provided seed funding for such projects that then receive sustaining funding from other sources.

           Approximately 9 percent of past TOP grants ($17.5 million) have been awarded to tribes or organizations that serve tribes.  For example, TOP grants have been awarded to the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the Pueblo of Santa Ana, the Minneapolis American Indian Center, Navajo Technology Empowerment Centers, and the Cherokee Nation for projects establishing community-wide networks that enhance access to educational, economic development, health, government, and electoral services as well build capacity for e-commerce, e-training and distance learning.  A list of TOP grants to American Indian and Native Alaskan entities is attached to my statement.

NTIA has also helped to extend the benefits of information and communications technology to American Indian and Alaska Native communities through the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP).  PTFP has made a significant contribution to the public broadcasting system in Indian country by (1) engaging in outreach efforts and (2) providing critical funding. 

PTFP has worked with several organizations to provide direct outreach to Native American stations and communities.  In June 2001, a PTFP program officer attended the Inter Tribal Native Radio Summit at the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon. Over 200 representatives from 25 native radio stations, American Indian Radio On Satellite distribution service, and the KOAHNIC Broadcasting service (Native American station in Anchorage AK) attended the event.  As a follow-up to the Summit, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters hosted a PTFP application workshop in November 2001.  PTFP program officers gave a full day presentation at the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico that was attended by 15 representatives from 7 stations and 2 radio projects in the planning stages.  In March 2003, PTFP met with Native stations at the National Federation of Community Broadcasters annual conference in San Francisco.  In late March 2003, PTFP participated in the Department of Commerce workshop at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium annual meeting in Fargo, South Dakota. 

  PTFP has also funded seven Native American projects over the past two fiscal years.  In FY 2001, we gave a planning grant to the Tanana Chiefs Conference, Inc., to plan for Native‑oriented public radio service in Fairbanks, Alaska, and throughout its service area in the Alaskan Interior Region.  PTFP also gave two construction grants, to improve the transmission equipment of KSUT-FM and KUTE-FM, both stations licensed to the Southern Ute tribe in Ignacio, Colorado. In FY 2002, we have two construction grants, one to KBRW-AM, in Barrow, Alaska, and one to KYUK-FM in Bethel, Alaska (both stations licensed to Native American corporations). We also awarded two planning grants, one to the Grants-Cibola County School District for a joint project with the Laguna and Acoma Pueblos, New Mexico, to plan for a radio station; and one to Leech Lake Tribal College to plan for a radio station in Cass Lake, Minnesota.

        NTIA is not alone in our efforts to address telecommunications needs in Indian Country.  Our colleagues at other Federal agencies have also focused their attention on this issue. Over the past few years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has undertaken a number of initiatives for bringing telecommunications services to Indian country.  Under its mandate to promote universal service to all consumers, the FCC has been working with American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages to ensure that people on tribal lands have access to telecommunications and information services.  The FCC has released studies on telephone subscribership on tribal lands, confirming that American Indian and Alaska Native communities, on average, have the lowest reported telephone subscribership levels in the country.  Its latest study, released May 5, 2003, shows that only two-thirds of all American Indian households living on American Indian Reservations and Off-Reservation Trust Lands: Federal have telephone service.  While this figure is actually an improvement for American Indians, it is still far below the national average of 95 percent of American households that have telephone service. To help remedy this situation, the FCC has adopted enhanced programs, as part of the Universal Service Fund, to promote telecommunications subscribership and infrastructure deployment on tribal lands.  The FCC has worked hard to promote its Lifeline and Link-Up Enhanced Support programs for tribal lands.

The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) has also worked hard to extend telecommunications networks and services into Indian country.  RUS provides many programs for financing rural America's telecommunications infrastructure, including the Rural Telephone Bank; the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants and loan program; the Broadband Pilot Program, a loan program designed specifically to increase the rate of deployment of broadband technology to small towns in rural areas; and the Weather Radio grant program, which provides funding for weather radio transmitters in rural areas.

           The Administration in general and NTIA in particular will continue to work with the FCC and RUS to support its important initiatives for bringing the benefits of telecommunications and information technologies to American Indian communities.

           The Federal government’s efforts on spectrum reform, including authorizing secondary markets and the 5 GHz allocation, will also engender opportunities for meeting the telecommunications needs of Indian Country.  These reforms enable us to use the resource better and allow for more innovative use of both licensed and unlicensed wireless technologies to meet the needs of rural communities.  For example, as part of a National Science Foundation funded effort called “Advanced Networking with Minority-Serving Institutions (AN-MSI),” Motorola deployed its unlicensed wireless “Canopy” service on three Indian reservations, providing an advanced networking infrastructure in remote and high cost areas.  Residents of the Turtle Mountain and the Fort Berthold reservations in North Dakota and the Fort Peck reservation in Montana now Internet access as well as video and IP telephony service.  At Fort Berthold, Motorola's Canopy solution set a distance record for these types of wireless products of 27 miles delivering 20 megabits of bandwidth.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I thank you again for the opportunity to testify on this critical issue of the role of the Federal government in addressing the telecommunications needs in Indian country. I welcome any questions you may have for me.






North Slope Borough: To connect eight rural communities above the Arctic Circle to share resources among hospitals and clinics, the school district, and administrative services, such as police and firefighting systems.

October 1, 1996; Barrow, AK; $350,000

Galena City School District: To bring affordable Internet access to a remote, rural region of Alaska.

October 1, 1996; Galena, AK; $230,928

Alaska Pacific University: Providing distance learning to underserved Alaska Native adult learners in remote villages.

October 1, 1998; Anchorage, AK; $240,000

Navajo Technology Empowerment Centers (NAVTEC):  To establish a digital network for

e-commerce development, e-training, and an electronic election system for all Navajo Nation general elections in the Western Navajo Agency.

October 1, 2001; Window Rock, AZ; $875,000

White Mountain Apache Tribe: To connect the schools, local hospitals, and tribal offices of a remote, economically disadvantaged tribal community to the Internet.

October 1, 1996; Whiteriver, AZ; $249,459

Pima County Community College:  Connecting a community college, university, and a reservation to deliver online science modules.

October 1, 1998; Tucson, AZ; $500,000

Seba Dalkai Boarding School, Inc.:  Implementing a wireless, satellite community network to link 110 local chapter houses (local tribal government entities) of the southwest Navajo Nation.


October 1, 1999; Flagstaff, AZ; $475,000

Round Valley Indian Health Center, Inc.:  Using telemedicine to bring better health care services to a medically underserved, isolated area, which includes an American Indian reservation.

October 1, 2000; Covelo, CA; $140,000

Southern Ute Indian Tribe: Providing Internet access to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, located in a rural, isolated part of the state.

November 1, 1995; Durango, CO; $214,000

Hawaii Area Health Education Center, Hawaii Unified Telehealth (H.U.T.) Program: To advance health education through distance learning and intergenerational peer education using statewide video teleconferencing systems.

October 1, 2001; Honolulu, HI; $699,396

Lewis-Clark State College: To develop a plan addressing issues of access for the entire community and the delivery of social and government services.

October 15, 1994; Lewiston, ID; $30,929

NAES College:  To link two college campuses in urban Native American communities and two reservations to a central facility in Chicago for workforce and educational training.

October 1, 1996; Chicago, IL; $152,576

Minneapolis American Indian Center: Creating a network to promote access to a wide range of social services for American Indian persons living in an urban area, while also developing communication capacities within the Twin Cities American Indian Community, the larger Twin Cities community, and select tribal governments.

October 1, 1997; Minneapolis, MN; $650,000

Leech Lake Tribal Council: Creating a TeleWellness infrastructure on a medically-underserved Tribal Reservation to provide health information as well as education for clinic staff.

October 1, 1999; Cass Lake, MN; $574,998

Montana State University, Montana Indian Technology and Cultural Heritage (TeCH) Learning Centers: To establish reservation-based technology training centers at which tribal elders and leaders will work with local youth, tribal college educators, and others on the digital preservation of their tribe=s historical, cultural, and language resources.

October 1, 2001; Bozeman, MT; $809,365

Montana State University: To provide six tribal colleges, and the low income, rural communities they serve, with training in creating, maintaining, and using computer networks.

October 1, 1996; Bozeman, MT; $300,000

Saint Vincent Foundation: Integrating the Telemedicine Instrumentation Pack (TIP) unit, previously developed for spaceflight medical applications, with a terrestrial telemedicine network linking the Crow Reservation to St. Vincent Hospital.

October 1, 1997; Billings, MT; $464,264

Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium, Inc.:  Planning to link 500 Native American tribes via the Internet, including a ten-site demonstration project.

October 15, 1994; Lincoln, NE; $155,844

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe: To establish a broadband, wireless network on a remote reservation to allow the tribe and its governmental departments to participate in government discussions and policymaking, and to gain access to information on programs, services, and council meetings.

October 1, 2001; Nixon, NV; $314,077

Santa Ana Pueblo:  Using a wireless community network to provide Internet access to the pueblo and information-sharing among tribal government departments.

October 1, 2000; Bernalillo, NM; $487,111

Rio Arriba Family Care Network, Inc.:  Creating an online patient record system to let health care providers in a rural area exchange electronic medical records.

October 1, 2000; Espanola, NM; $533,515

University of New Mexico, Cyber Sovereignty - The Tribal Access Grid for Museums and Culture Centers: To provide five Native American museums/culture centers with broadband Internet connections for distance education and training, e-commerce, and viewing of web-based exhibitions and databases.

October 1, 2001; Albuquerque, NM; $815,784

Alamo Navajo School Board, Inc.:  Increasing access to medical services from the Albuquerque Indian Health Service Hospital for 1,800 residents of the Alamo Reservation through on-site diagnostic consultation using interactive video teleconferencing, which will also be used to support staff development and training.

October 1, 1997; Magdalena, NM; $133,280

National Indian Telecommunication Institute:  Creating an Internet-based interactive teaching tool to train curators at Native American museums.

October 1, 1998; Sante Fe, NM; $244,059 21.

Fort Berthold Community College:  Creating a partnership with the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations), community organizations, the reservation school, the Job Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop a reservation-wide telecommunications system to provide education, culture, and training to all areas of the reservation.

October 1, 1997; New Town, ND; $234,350

Cherokee Nation:  Cherokee FIRST (Friendly Information Referral Service Team): To link electronically seven Cherokee community centers to allow end users in rural and remote areas of Northeast Oklahoma to participate in a wide variety of services (some in the Cherokee language), including health, human services, housing, education, and public safety.

October 1, 2001; Tahlequah, OK; $652,586

National Indian Child Welfare Association, NICWAnet:  Improving Indian Child Welfare Services and Outcomes Through Access to Technology: To improve the well-being of American Indian children and families, to improve the child welfare services that they receive, and to strengthen tribal and state Indian child welfare programs via the Internet.

October 1, 2001; Portland, OR; $765,469

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission:  Planning a community network to link Indian tribes in the Columbia River Basin.

October 15, 1995; Portland, OR; $46,237

Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board:  Creating a computer network to track disease patterns and plan public health interventions in geographically remote tribal communities in the Pacific Northwest.

October 1, 1997; Portland, OR; $625,045

Intertribal GIS Council, Inc.: Providing tribes with a Geographical Information System and creating a database to manage tribal natural resources.

October 1, 1998; Pendleton, OR; $113,804

Rural Alliance, Inc.:  Using information technology to provide online resources for pregnant mothers and families with young children in a rural area of the state.

October 1, 2000; Rapid City, SD; $300,000

Mni Sose Intertribal Water Rights Coalition, Inc.:  Planning a telecommunications network among 23 Indian tribes in five states.

October 15, 1995; Rapid City, SD; $233,290 29.

Oglala Sioux Tribe:  Developing a digital wireless home health care service network for residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation to coordinate responses form health services and emergency services to high-risk patients.

October 1, 1997; Pine Ridge, SD; $208,989

University of South Dakota, School of Medicine:  Establishing a two-way interactive link between McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls and the Yankton Sioux Reservation to deliver child psychiatry services to Native American children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

October 1, 1997; Sioux Falls, SD; $54,880

Suquamish Indian Tribe:  Using wireless technology to provide educational services to the tribal families and children.

October 1, 2000; Suquamish, WA; $410,000

Kalispel Tribe of Indians: To develop broadband digital network technologies to assist Indian tribes in eastern Washington preserve and sustain their shared tribal culture, history, and language.

October 1, 2002; Usk, WA; $505,000