Marvin Weatherwax Jr.: American Indian tribes deserve better than Gigi Sohn (Media Share)

Marvin Weatherwax Jr.

This is a media share from a story in the Missoulian article published February 19, 2023. To read the original article on their website click the below link:

Original Article:

Gigi Sohn, whom President Biden has renominated to the Federal Communications Commission, has an unfortunate history of working against tribes, and American Indians deserve much better.

One of the biggest issues facing tribal communities is the widespread lack of internet availability, which is essential to fully participating in the economy, education, and virtually every aspect of daily life. At least a third of rural tribal lands still don’t have broadband access, which is where most American Indians live. We need a leader at the FCC who will prioritize connecting us to the future. Gigi Sohn is not that leader.

Sohn previously served at the FCC as the top advisor to then-Chairman Tom Wheeler. During her tenure, she repeatedly failed to prioritize investing in tribal infrastructure.
She was given many opportunities – and enormous funding – to roll out broadband to more American Indians. Not only did she fail to do so, she actively worked against us, while avoiding accountability for letting us down.

federal investigation in 2016 faulted the FCC with failing to deliver on longstanding promises to expand broadband access on tribal lands. It found that, under Sohn’s leadership, the FCC hadn’t established goals or measures for reaching our communities, despite receiving significant taxpayer funding. When Congress directly asked Sohn about it, she admitted the total lack of knowledge about tribal lands, then promised to do better. Tribal communities never saw a change.

Sohn told Congress that building more internet infrastructure in cities was more important, even though 99% of urban Americans already have broadband internet access. Shockingly, she’s said the federal government spends too much on rural efforts. That’s news to rural tribal communities, which have been waiting for decades.

If Sohn had done more for American Indians, we wouldn’t have suffered nearly so much during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Coalition of Large Tribes recently wrote, “Our kids struggled to have access to their schoolwork. Their parents struggled with remote work, and we struggled to keep our government open and accessible to our tribal citizens.”

Yet internet access is not the only issue where Gigi Sohn has ignored the urgent needs of American Indians.

Public safety is the number one concern for most tribal governments. In some tribal communities, American Indian women face a maze of injustice and murder rates more than 10 times the national average. Montana is the epicenter of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons cases as a new film showcases, “Murder in Big Horn.” A staggering 40% of sex trafficking victims come from tribal communities. These criminals use the internet, which is why Congress overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation in 2018 to fight sex trafficking online. American Indians widely praised this move, but we also took note of those who opposed it.

Chief among them: The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which called this legislation “a dark day for the internet.” Such casual disregard for the victims of sex trafficking is sickening, and anyone associated with this foundation deserves serious suspicion. That includes Sohn, who serves on EFF’s board. Adding insult to injury, Sohn’s group, by filing anti-sovereignty amicus briefs, fought to strip American Indian tribes of commercial opportunities we need to build a better life on our ancestral lands.

Digital sovereignty is essential to addressing our public safety crisis, connecting law enforcement and first responders to the American Indian people who need their help and enabling victims and their families to access legal help via the internet.

Our veterans and youth need access to behavioral healthcare via telehealth, eliminating their otherwise burdensome path to care that often involves round-trip drives of several hundred miles. Our people need access to e-commerce to create sustainable rural economies.

Broadband access is tribal communities’ gateway to economic dignity and access to justice. Gigi Sohn has repeatedly demonstrated herself to be a roadblock to both. She is wrong for Indian Country and wrong for the FCC.