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The Tribal Digital Divide: Extent and Explanations

CICD Working Papers 2021-03 | Published July 29, 2021

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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


In this paper, we use three recently released nationwide datasets to establish the current state of the tribal digital divide. To that end, we develop an empirical approach using geographies such as census block groups and ZCTAs to study tribal digital inequities by comparing households on tribal land to neighboring households on non-tribal land. We find that the tribal digital gap takes several forms. Households on tribal land are less likely to have Internet at home and, when Internet is available, have slower download and upload speeds on both fixed and mobile devices, as well as more expensive basic broadband plans. We also find that across many Internet-related outcomes, traditional factors that drive the profitability of broadband deployment—low population density, lower incomes and lack of complementary infrastructure—cannot account for the large differences in tribal broadband gaps.