A Coachella Valley lawmaker’s bill to expand broadband internet access for tribal communities in the Coachella Valley was signed into law Friday.

The Tribal Broadband Deployment Act directs the Federal Communications Commission to improve broadband access in tribal lands within 30 months, according to the office of Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, who authored the bill.

The legislation also seeks an evaluation of broadband coverage on tribal lands and solutions to address the “digital divide” that Ruiz said exists in those communities.

“This is a huge win for underserved rural communities and tribes here in Riverside County,” Ruiz said. “By improving connectivity for our rural tribal communities, the surrounding rural communities will also benefit from the expanded broadband infrastructure and high-speed internet access. Broadband internet has become as essential to success as the telephone was in 1950 and this bill will go a long way towards delivering broadband to thousands of people in our region.”

Ruiz cited an FCC Broadband Deployment Report indicating that 35.4 percent of Americans living on tribal lands lack access to high-speed internet, compared to 2.1 percent of Americans living in urban areas. In rural Riverside County communities overall, 58 percent of residents don’t have access to high-speed internet, according to the report.

“As recently as 2002, tribal members had to drive three miles down the road just to make a simple phone call — we weren’t even thinking about broadband internet,” said Chairman Steven Estrada of the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians. “Many communities in our region still lack access to broadband and Dr. Ruiz’s bill will help bridge the gap while fulfilling the federal trust responsibility to tribes.”

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