A guide to internet resources for Native Americans

Joe Supan

Feb 2, 2022 — 6 min read

Government programs can provide up to $109.25/mo. off internet for households on Tribal lands, but many people don’t have access to internet at all.

Native American man looking at laptop

Editor’s note: 

The Affordable Connectivity Program will stop accepting new applications on Feb. 8, 2024. You must be approved and enrolled with an internet service provider by 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb 7 to get the benefit. (02/01/24).

Editor’s note: 

As of 12/31/21, the Emergency Broadband Benefit has been replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program. It offers a monthly discount of $75 on internet service for households on qualifying tribal land, plus a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop or tablet. Anyone with an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines is eligible.

The digital divide refers to the gap between those who have high-speed internet and those who don’t, and nowhere is that gap wider than on American Indian land.

According to the FCC, around 628,000 Tribal households — roughly 36% of Tribal households nationwide — don’t have access to standard broadband speeds of 25 Mbps. For comparison, the same is true for just 8% of non-Tribal households. Another study from the American Indian Policy Institute (AIPI) found that 18% of reservation residents don’t have home internet at all. 

There have been significant investments made by the federal government to help close this gap, including a $75/mo. subsidy for people on Tribal lands as part of the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB). But for most Indigenous communities, access is still the primary roadblock. 

Native American lands are “chronically disconnected,” said Traci L. Morris, Ph.D., the Director of the AIPI at Arizona State University. “The EBB is only helpful if your carrier participates and of course, if you have a carrier. In some communities upwards of 80% of residents are on Lifeline phone service, but not internet.”

This has been reflected in the USAC’s reporting on the EBB. As of June 6, only 61,442 households on Tribal lands had enrolled in the program — a fraction of the 2,252,505 non-Tribal households that have enrolled despite qualifying for the program at much higher rates.

Unfortunately, that disparity highlights the digital divide as it relates to Native Americans: Even when the government allocates funds to connect Native Americans, the infrastructure often isn’t there for many to take advantage of it. 

In this guide, we’ll walk through all the options currently available to Native Americans for saving on their internet bill where internet is actually available, plus some resources for improving broadband access on Tribal lands. 

Emergency Broadband Benefit: $75/mo. towards internet

In May 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a nationwide program to make the internet more affordable for people who need it the most. The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) provides a $50/mo. subsidy towards internet for qualifying households, but that amount increases to $75/mo. for people who live on Tribal lands.

The EBB is designed as a temporary program to address broadband connectivity issues that have come up during the coronavirus pandemic. It will end either when the $3.2 billion fund runs out of money or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 emergency, whichever comes first. The FCC told us that it expects the funds to run out before this emergency period ends.

Who qualifies for the Enhanced Tribal Benefit?

To take advantage of the FCC’s $75/mo. Enhanced Tribal Benefit, you’ll need to meet a couple of criteria. First, your household must be located on qualifying Tribal lands. This includes:

The FCC says to contact your broadband provider if you have specific questions about whether your address qualifies for the Enhanced Tribal Benefit. 

You must also meet the general requirements for the Emergency Broadband Benefit. If your household income is 135% of federal poverty guidelines (shown in the table below), you can get the EBB.

Additionally, if any member of your household participates in one or more of the following programs, you’ll be eligible for the EBB:

  • Qualifies for Lifeline benefits through participation in SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit
  • Participates in one of several Tribal specific programs:
    • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
    • Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard)
    • Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF)
    • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since Feb. 29, 2020 with a total household income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers
  • Received a federal Pell Grant in the current award year
  • Received approval for benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program, and that provider received FCC approval for its eligibility verification process

Some internet providers are also offering $100 off a computer or tablet

In addition to the $75/mo. towards internet service, some providers are also opting in to a device portion of the benefit. This provides a one-time discount of $100 on a computer or tablet, but you’ll have to purchase it through your internet provider. 

Unfortunately, most providers aren’t participating in this portion of the benefit. Currently, only Cox, Cricket Wireless, good2go mobile, T-Mobile, TracFone, Windstream and a handful of other regional providers have opted in. 

Do I have to be a member of a tribe to receive the Enhanced Tribal Benefit?

No. Anyone living on eligible Tribal lands can take advantage of the Enhanced Tribal Benefit. You do not need to be a member of a tribe.

Learn more about the Emergency Broadband Benefit

Lifeline: Up to $34.25/mo. off phone or internet

In addition to the EBB, many Indigenous people can also take advantage of Lifeline’s enhanced Tribal benefit. The federal benefit typically provides $9.25/mo. to low-income consumers for phone or internet services, but it’s increased to $34.25/mo. for anyone living on Tribal lands. You can combine this benefit with the EBB for a total discount of $109.25/mo. off your internet bill. 

Like the EBB, you’ll have to qualify through income guidelines (135% of federal poverty guidelines) or any of the following federal assistance programs: 

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
  • Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
  • Tribal Programs (and live on federally-recognized Tribal lands)
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Head Start (only households meeting the income qualifying standard)
  • Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF)
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

You can take advantage of both the EBB and Lifeline at the same time, although you’ll still have to apply for each one separately. 

Tribal Link Up

In addition to the monthly Lifeline benefit, people living on Tribal lands can also get up to $100 off installation fees when setting up broadband service. This is a one-time benefit per address, but you can use it any time you move. For installation costs up to $200, Link Up also provides a no-interest payment plan for up to a year. 

Learn more about Lifeline’s Tribal benefits

Other resources for Native Americans

In addition to these government-funded subsidies for phone and internet service, there are a number of other resources available that can help close the digital divide for Indigenous Americans. Click the links below to learn more:

Joe Supan

Written by:

Joe Supan

Principal Writer, Broadband Content

Joe is a senior writer for CNET covering home technology and broadband. Prior to joining CNET, Joe led MYMOVE’s moving coverage and reported on broadband policy, the digital divide, and privacy issues for the br… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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