Tribal libraries, partners leverage federal E-rate to deliver high-speed connections to six pueblos, new ALA case study shows

For Immediate Release
Wed, 09/16/2020


Shawnda Hines

Assistant Director, Communications

Public Policy and Advocacy

Washington, DC – Built by E-Rate: A Case Study of Two Tribally-Owned Fiber Networks and the Role of Libraries in Making It Happen (Full reportExecutive summary), published today by the American Library Association (ALA), details tribal libraries’ role in creating two broadband consortia owned, operated by, and serving tribal communities in Northern New Mexico. Policymakers at the federal, state and tribal level have praised the case study (see quotes below). 

“Tribal communities have abysmal broadband access—by far, the worst for any group of Americans,” said ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr. “Our report shows how libraries can be a catalyst to fill broadband gaps. In their mission to provide reliable high-speed internet access across their tribal communities, these libraries and their partners at the tribal, state and federal levels developed an innovative framework that can be adapted by other high-need areas to create their own local broadband solutions.” 

Leveraging tribal library and school access to E-rate funding, the Middle Rio Grande and Jemez-Zia consortia featured in Built By E-rate each built a modern fiber broadband network that dramatically increased their internet access speeds and decreased costs. The networks, which cover six sovereign nations, are uniquely self-sufficient and tribally owned. As communities and their libraries across the country search for reliable solutions to rural and Tribal connectivity deficits, the consortia showcase the successes of a community-centered approach.  

Building on the work of the Middle Rio Grande and Jemez-Zia Pueblo Tribal Consortia, Built by E-rate offers a series of recommendations to strengthen support for tribal libraries and their participation in the E-rate program, including: 

  • Promoting awareness of opportunities for E-Rate funding for tribal libraries 
  • Advocating for E-rate eligibility and inclusion for tribal libraries 
  • Providing technical support throughout E-rate application and implementation 

Nationwide, America’s libraries have boosted efforts to expanded internet service and provide Wi-Fi hotspots and other devices during the pandemic. FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks named “America’s libraries” an honoree of the inaugural Digital Opportunity Equity Recognition (DOER) Program, saying, “Libraries across the nation have consistently bridged the digital divide by providing essential access to the internet, devices, digital literacy training, rich content, and services to the disconnected.” 

Santo Domingo Pueblo Librarian Cynthia Aguilar: “A collective voice of tribal libraries can create a singular vision such as broadband in New Mexico in tandem across all of Indian lands. We in Indian Country have a right to equal broadband to express our collective voice.” 

Maureen A. Wacondo, Jemez Pueblo Community Library Interim Librarian: “During this pandemic, the two libraries in the Jemez/Zia Consortia have been able to provide the much-needed internet access to our community members so they can apply for unemployment, create accounts for paying bills, access stimulus funds, and participate in educational virtual online lessons, and much more. Now that school is in session, we are facing the challenges of internet in the homes for students to obtain the basic education requirements. All tribal communities share the same struggles especially when it comes to technology, and our lives matter.”

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (NM), lead cosponsor of the Tribal Connect Act (S.4529): "I commend the American Library Association for their commitment to ensuring broadband access for all tribal libraries and working to increase participation in the federal E-rate program that connects students to the internet. I was proud to partner with the ALA on my Tribal Connect Act to create investments in broadband connectivity in Indian Country so that all of our students and children can compete on an even playing field and learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. I thank the ALA for their partnership on important legislation and their efforts to raise awareness for federal broadband opportunities and initiatives for tribal communities."

 U.S. Congressman Ben Ray Luján (NM-3), lead cosponsor of Tribal Connect Act (H.R.7973):  “New Mexico’s rural and Tribal communities face a digital divide that has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was proud to work with the American Library Association and my colleagues to introduce the Tribal Connect Act to increase E-Rate eligibility and help Tribal libraries access high-speed broadband. The ALA’s “Built by E-Rate” report makes it clear that these investments in broadband are working across New Mexico, and that’s why I remain committed to leveraging our libraries to connect communities.” 

Crosby Kemper III, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Director: “Tribal libraries continue to provide essential resources and services that communities rely on, now more than ever. These institutions facilitate connectivity, digital literacy, and digital inclusion that help support education and access to vital information, such as health and job resources. IMLS is proud to support initiatives and opportunities that empower rural and tribal communities to expand their digital infrastructure and strengthen partnerships." 

Leaders from the Middle Rio Grande and Jemez-Zia Pueblo Tribal Consortia will hold a panel discussion, Community Connectors: Tribal Libraries Make Broadband Work, at the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Tribal Broadband Summit on Wednesday, September 23, at 2:45 p.m. (EDT).