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The Tribal Digital Divide: Extent and Explanations

CICD Working Papers 2021-03 | Revised June 27, 2022

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Authors

Anahid Bauer University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
D.L. Feir CICD Research Fellow
Matthew Gregg Senior Economist, Community Development and Engagement
The Tribal Digital Divide: Extent and Explanations

Abstract

This paper documents home Internet access, types of Internet access, connection speeds, and prices for basic home Internet in tribal areas of the United States. We find that the share of households with Internet access is 21 percentage points lower in tribal areas than in neighboring non-tribal areas. When compared to these non-tribal areas, download speeds, whether measured using fixed or mobile broadband networks, are approximately 75 percent slower in tribal areas, while the lowest price for basic Internet services in tribal areas is 11 percent higher. Regression techniques reveal that traditional cost factors such as terrain and population density fully explain the price gap but account for only a fraction of the tribal differences in Internet access and connection speeds. Income differences are strong predictors of Internet access but do not affect connection speeds. A sizable amount of the variation in the access and home connection gap between tribal and non-tribal is left unexplained. We conclude with a discussion of how federal broadband programs have penetrated Indian Country, how tribal-specific factors are related to the variation in Internet access within Indian Country, and the potential policy implications of our findings.