Two tribes sue USDA over broadband grant awards

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The Native Village of Unalakleet and Native Village of Elim have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over a $70 million grant award that is part of the ReConnect “BEAD” Program, a massive $42.5 billion federal broadband “equity” program to bring high-speed internet to underserved areas in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and territories.

The tribes’ lawsuit says USDA gave away $70 million in funds meant to help connect them to the internet, and then declared the tribes “served” with internet, after not checking with the tribes to see if they were served.

The lawsuit says that the condition of awarding any funds to applicants for grants or loans under the ReConnect Program mandate that an applicant seeking funding to construct broadband service infrastructure over Tribal Lands must obtain a “Tribal Government Resolution of Consent from the Tribal Council of the Tribal Government with jurisdiction over the Tribal Lands at issue.” 

In the fourth round of the grant in the fiscal year 2023, the defendant RUS, which administers the grants, granted applications by Interior Telephone Company and Mukluk Telephone Company, in a total of $69,982,995, for a fiber-to-the-premises network. Evidently RUS consulted with Kawarek Inc., a community services organization that is not an authorized Native group in the consultation process outlined in the grant documents.

Despite obtaining $34,993,700 and $34,989,295, respectively, in Round Four of the Reconnect Program to construct broadband service infrastructure in the Nome Census Region of Alaska, Interior and Mukluk lack the ability to begin construction and have not implemented a backhaul plan, which is necessary for connecting subnetworks to the core broadband network, to serve the region, the lawsuit says.

“Even apart from the impropriety of the RUS awards, the lack of performance by Interior and Mukluk will prevent unserved Tribal communities such as Unalakleet and Elim from obtaining access to broadband service. Not only have Interior and Mukluk failed to serve Tribes like Unalakleet and Elim, they have prevented other ReConnect applicants from receiving funding in future rounds to do so after falsely declaring them ‘served’ without checking with the tribes,” as they were legally required to do.

The bottom line, the two tribes are not happy that the USDA apparently broke their own rules by allowing applicants to do work on their lands without their consent.

Once awards are made, the villages are marked as “served” and cannot apply for further funds.

Neither Interior nor Mukluk has yet begun any work on the projects described by their applications, the lawsuit says.

“Tribes including Unalakleet and Elim are injured by the lost benefit of the broadband infrastructure development funds intended for their benefit, and by being designated as ‘served’ when they are not,” the lawsuit continues.

In November, National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a press release saying the BEAD program “will only succeed if every penny is wisely spent. This includes ensuring that subgrantees have the capacity not just to build and deploy high-speed Internet networks but to operate those networks for years to come, delivering Internet connectivity to areas that for too long have been left behind.”

The news release continued, “Being a good steward of taxpayer dollars also means encouraging robust participation from Internet service providers (ISPs) of all types and sizes. Inclusivity is key: where larger ISPs may have the resources to deploy quickly, smaller providers often have unique expertise in serving some of the hardest-to-reach communities in America. When providers compete for BEAD funding, states and territories can more efficiently spend their allocations and make the most of this historic investment.”

To that end, the NTIA released a programmatic waiver of the Letter of Credit requirement in the BEAD Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO).

Under the NOFO, prospective subgrantees must provide an irrevocable standby letter of credit to the Eligible Entity (i.e., the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia) before entering into a subgrantee agreement. The amount of the letter of credit must be no less than 25% of the subaward amount.

“This requirement helps states and territories ensure that potential BEAD applicants have the financial capacity to deliver reliable, affordable high-speed Internet service,” the notice said.

Read the lawsuit at this link:

18 COMMENTS

  1. This is what you get when you award trainloads of cash to groups based on race. The Biden administration knew what they were doing. Who DIDN’T see this coming?

  2. Seems to me that Starlink would be a viable and less costly option overall.
    Besides, money would not have to be wasted over the tribal bickering, there would be less corruption and it would ensue we can get back to what really matters in this broken, state.

    • Exactly right and instead of waiting years for this to be installed, all these villages could have it now.

    • If it were actually about broadband, you’d be correct, as Starlink fills that need. Sadly, it’s not, as it is all about the grift associated with the broadband contract awards – massive $$$ awarded on a racial basis. Those $$$ are then recycled back into political campaigns, not unlike what the unions have done for decades and the green grifters are very good at doing. Cheers –

  3. For $70,000,000 almost 12,000 residences could have received a starlink terminal and $4,000 in subsidies for their bills.

  4. The State has turned a blind eye to the fact that legislators created specific funding for monopoly providers, without opening the door for competitive bids for service.

    There were numerous amendments from the House and Senate to correct the violations of State and Federal monopoly laws, all which were voted down.

    The end result is two Satellite providers were excluded from the right to bid on contracts for School districts.

    Legislators are filling their pockets in the Bush and still no FBI, or even Trooper investigations.

  5. Alaska communities who can’t afford to pay for their own internet can go without it. Taxpayers are not obligated paying for communities internet just as they never were responsible for providing higher education loans, state scholarships, and grants for adults pursuing higher education, nor are we responsible for paying for Medicaid, Medicare, unemployment, social security, VA, IHS. The country could shut down while departments saving the taxpayers billions! These were Big mistakes by former elected leaders.

  6. Tribes don’t have lands, Bering Straits Corp and the village corps own the lands along with multiple private Native allotments. Alaska no longer has an economy. It’s layers of grants and public funds derived from printing “money” secured by notes held by foreign countries then argued over by dozens of essentially useless federal, state, local and tribal entities. Millions wasted with no enhanced internet service. Every one of these companies and entities are corrupt and selfish. Dysfunctional.

  7. What in the living hell does the Department of Agriculture have to do with broadband internet for native tribes??? It’s a valid question. Has the absurd flow of illegal aliens across our southern border been stopped yet? In the words of famous murder trial witness Rachel Jeantel, “That’s real retarded, sir”.

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