Sparking National Attention to Help MuralNet Close Tribal Digital Divide

Overview

As MuralNet went to petition the FCC for access to spectrum needed by Tribal lands for broadband, the non-profit, co-founded by Martin Casado, partnered with Outside Labs to create national attention around this issue. The FCC gave Tribal communities access to spectrum through a newly established Tribal Priority window. Today, more and more communities are being connected as MuralNet continues to provide legal resources, training, technical support, equipment and more.

Challenge

Broadband is the basis and future of economic development, health, and education for Native Americans. Understanding how the digital divide impacts Tribal communities, MuralNet was launched to give broadband to these communities all over the United States. The non-profit organization, co-founded by Martin Casado and Brian Shih in 2017, began working with Native communities to design, build, and implement sustainable Tribal networks. One big impediment was the permission needed to use the airwaves over their own land, known as spectrum. This issue ultimately led CEO Mariel Triggs, Tribal leaders, and others to our nation’s capital to petition the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and lawmakers on Capitol Hill for Tribal access to spectrum. To put pressure on the FCC, MuralNet needed a strategic communications partner to help create awareness of this issue at the national level.

Goal:
Call attention to the digital divide in Native American lands across America, and advocate for Tribal access to spectrum.
Solution:

Outside Labs targeted newswires, national outlets, local press, and legislative news publications to call attention to the digital divide in Native American lands, and to advocate for Tribal access to spectrum. We began sharing data about the digital divide in Tribal communities from several different studies, including studies about how half of Tribal rural households don’t have access to a fixed wireless internet provider– which is over twice the rate of their non-Tribal counterparts. We also gave media training to spokespeople from Tribal communities so they could share their personal stories of struggle in Tribal communities that lack broadband access, as well as their stories of success in Tribal communities that MuralNet helped connect. We also shared details about the unfair practices of spectrum auctions, which allowed service providers who secured those licenses to use it to enhance their 5G capabilities, but didn’t require them to connect communities that have no business case.

 

Results:

Outside Labs secured dozens of unique stories in newswires, national dailies and many others including the Associated Press, Bloomberg Law, Business Insider, CBS News, Fox News, GovTech, Law360, Newsweek and NPR. These stories caught the attention of politicians, lawmakers, and the FCC.

 

Business Impact:

Through the efforts of MuralNet and other supporters, as well as the press attention on this issue, a Tribal priority window was established to give Native American communities the opportunity to apply for spectrum before it was auctioned off to the highest bidder. This historical achievement also led to Casado and Triggs being honored with the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefiting Local Communities Jefferson Award.

This momentum has also led to new funding for Tribal communities, including a $1 billion Tribal Connectivity Program as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, and another $2 billion for Tribal broadband as part of the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. MuralNet has also established new and stronger partnerships with government agencies, Silicon Valley, middle-mile providers, ISPs, colleges, and universities to provide Tribes with access to equipment and in-house network planning, labor, technical support, policy specialists, and lawyers.

MuralNet started with a vision where every Tribal community has access to broadband internet and Outside Labs played a key role in helping overcome key challenges with a public relations campaigns and ongoing activity to continue that momentum.

Martin Casado,
Co-founder

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