KING WILLIAM — Two tribes in Virginia will have better digital communication on their reservations, thanks to a federal grant program aimed at extending Internet access to tribal nations.
The Pamunkey and Upper Mattaponi tribes – both located in King William County – have received grants from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Internet for All initiative, a $3 billion program to connect 21 000 Native American homes nationwide with infrastructure and devices.
With funding from the Infrastructure Bill passed last year, the grants aim to bring broadband to underserved indigenous populations as well as provide devices and improve digital skills training to improve access to education, jobs and health care on tribal lands.
The Upper Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes are among 112 tribes nationwide that have received Tribal Broadband Connectivity program grants, totaling $1.5 billion to date. They are the only two tribes in Virginia to receive the grants.
On November 17, nearly a year after Upper Mattaponi announced its grant, the Pamunkey Tribe also celebrated its participation in the broadband program.
Representatives of the Pamunkey Tribe, including Chief Robert Gray and Tribal Council members, NTIA, All Points Broadband and Dominion Energy, gathered outside the historic 1908 schoolhouse to commemorate the $500,000 project.
As part of the project, broadband will be installed directly into all 48 existing homes and nine anchor community institutions – including the school, museum, community center and church – on the 1,200-acre reserve free of charge. for five years.
All new residences built on the Pamunkey Reservation will have access to broadband service but will need to purchase it, Gray said.
“With citizens just doing normal day-to-day activities, they need broadband,” he said. “People who want to start businesses here…and all the benefits of high speed – we couldn’t get here because we have satellite service.”
According to Gray, broadband service will be essential to operate telemedicine from an Indian Health Services building, which is planned to be built on the reservation. Currently, IHS operates from mobile vans.
Gray said the Pamunkey tribe looks forward to reliable internet in homes and other places where the tribe can “educate the public…(and) step into the 21st century.” Improved service can help tribal members across the country become more involved in tribal affairs through virtual meetings and cultural education, he added.
“It’s going to improve health (and) it’s going to empower people to learn and earn, living where they want to live,” echoed Laura Spining, NTIA’s Deputy Associate Administrator of the Office of Connectivity and of internet growth. “…People can become innovators and take what’s theirs and share it with the rest of the world.”
Gray called the tribe’s current satellite and cell phone internet service “appalling.”
“Before I went to bed, I set it to download an hour and a half movie and it can take four hours to download,” he said.
All Points Broadband Vice President Tom Innes said Thursday that the broadband being installed on the Pamunkey Reservation will be 1,000 times faster than its current satellite service.
“There (are) a lot of people who don’t even know what they can do with the internet,” Gray said. “I’ve lived here for over 30 years and I’m not even sure what I’ll be able to do.”
The Upper Mattaponi Tribe Broadband Use and Adoption Project was approved in November 2021, according to the NTIA. The $473,349 project provided 300 laptops to tribal members and enabled students to access remote learning support and low-income seniors to access telehealth. It also provided payment assistance for two years to 55 low-income households currently using satellite broadband services.
According to the NTIA, the project was to cover the entire “geographically diverse tribe” and directly help about half of its 650 tribesmen. There are currently no plans to install broadband internet on the reservation.
“In rural King William, the internet is vital to the tribe so we can interact with other tribes and most importantly file reports with the federal government,” Upper Mattaponi Chief Frank Adams said.
In an August 2022 article by Tribal Business News, Upper Mattaponi Tribe Community Development Manager Morgan Dean said the tribe, located on 400 acres in the county’s Central Garage area, was struggling to time to get signals and gain access to devices.
“These computers have really given access to people who are already struggling to get out of poverty,” Dean said. “I’m just thinking of a girl who was able to continue her GED studies because of her access, or seniors who were able to contact their family via Zoom and Skype and avoid the social isolation that comes with COVID.”
Amy Jo Martin, [email protected]