CRONKITE NEWS

Lack of broadband puts Havasupai tribe, rural areas ‘in jeopardy’

Jul 12, 2019, 4:45 AM
(Miranda Faulkner/Cronkite News)...
(Miranda Faulkner/Cronkite News)
(Miranda Faulkner/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – The Havasupai tribe is falling behind in education, health and emergency needs because, like many rural communities, it lacks affordable, reliable and high-speed broadband, a tribal councilwoman told a House committee Thursday.

Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss was one of several witnesses who said rural areas are “in jeopardy” of being left behind without the high-speed internet access of broadband, which is used for everything from telemedicine to distance learning to up-to-the-minute market reports for farmers.

“Community members can better their lives and their education through future broadband expansion,” Watahomigie-Corliss said in testimony prepared for a House Agriculture subcommittee.

“These services that ordinary Americans have been using for the past 20 years are still not a reality for my entire community, but this is the first glimmer of hope we have seen for decades,” she said of gain the tribe has made recently after decades of effort.

The Havasupai are among 24 million Americans in rural communities that lack infrastructure for high-speed broadband that is “critical to survival,” said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Georgia.

“Big data and artificial intelligence, cloud storage and computing, the internet of things and data analytics, telemedicine, and other modern tools cannot be replicated without broadband access to the Internet,” he said.

Thursday’s hearing was called to find out “what’s being done well … and what work remains” to bring broadband to rural communities, said Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia, the subcommittee chairman who called the meeting.

Witnesses talked about gains that have led to “adequate” service but leave much to be desired, with systems being overloaded or freezing at critical moments. They pointed to increased funding for rural broadband and other changes included in the 2018 farm bill, but added that more changes are needed to let the Agriculture Department “better target its limited resources to the rural communities most in need,” in the words of Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas.

The Havasupai live on the floor of the Grand Canyon in an “extremely isolated” area that is only accessible by horseback, helicopter or an 8-mile hike – with a trailhead that is 67 miles to the nearest town. Watahomigie-Corliss called it “the definition of rural.”

But that doesn’t mean empty: Besides the 398 people who live year-round in the village of Supai, the community and its waterfalls attract 35,000 tourists a year, which requires the ability to provide efficient healthcare and emergency services.

“We do not have good emergency communication capabilities to the furthest gorge that tourists like to visit, and their safety is our responsibility,” Watahomigie-Corliss told the committee. “Navigating the canyon can sometimes be a life-or-death situation if someone gets lost.”

The village population rises to 423 in summer, when children return home from school: Since Havasupai schools only go to eighth grade, tribal youth have to leave Supai and go to boarding school if they want to earn a high school diploma. That can be difficult for tribal children who may be “unable to adjust … and return to the village, never going back to their studies,” Watahomigie-Corliss said.

Efforts to set up online courses for students had faltered. But Watahomigie-Corliss said the tribe has recently secured a 30 megabits-per-second connection and set up an equipment checkout program that helped prompt its first successful online classes.

“While we have had success, we also have more needs,” Watahomigie-Corliss said.

She said the tribe plans to expand service to “bring broadband coverage to the whole village, increase backhaul from 50 Mbps to one Gbps (gigabit per second), provide emergency communications throughout the canyon, connect an online charter high school and allow for telemedicine in the new clinic.” And her tribe is not alone, she said.

“The disparities felt by my community may be of the most extreme examples felt by rural tribal nations, but the disparity of the digital divide are being felt all across the Indian Country,” Watahomigie-Corliss told the committee.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Cronkite News

Lake Powell at the Glen Canyon Dam wall on Aug. 18, 2021, as the lake was at historic lows. (Photo ...
Ulysse Bex and Emma VandenEinde I Cronkite News

New estimates show Colorado River levels falling faster than expected

New projections show that Lake Mead and Lake Powell could reach “critically low reservoir elevations” sooner than expected, spurring experts to say that “bold actions” will be needed to change course.
18 days ago
A total of 1.6 million Arizonans ultimately benefited from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance pro...
Diannie Chavez I Cronkite News

Pandemic unemployment relief ends, cutting off 45,000 jobless in Arizona

A federal pandemic relief program that provided extra financial aid to jobless workers ended Monday, hitting more than 45,000 unemployed Arizonans who had already seen the state pull away another source of federal aid in July.
1 month ago
An endangered jaguar captured by a remote camera in southeastern Arizona. Advocates - and now a cou...
Kimberly Silverio-Bautista I Cronkite News

Feds deal another setback to Arizona copper mine by upholding jaguar habitat

Federal regulators on Friday rejected a mining company’s request to reduce critical habitat for endangered jaguars in the Santa Rita Mountains on land that overlaps the footprint of the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine.
1 month ago
White-lined sphinx moth caterpillars can grow up to 5 inches long. (Photo by Sierra Alvarez/ Cronki...
Olivia Dow I Cronkite News

Here’s why so many big caterpillars are wriggling around Arizona

Not only are the caterpillars abundant on roadways in Arizona, they’re showing up in swimming pools and gardens, and on walls and hiking trails.
1 month ago
(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)...
Connor Worley | Cronkite News

As COVID-19 testing numbers increase, Embry Health hopes to expand services

Embry Health launched an initiative this month to hire 800 workers to spread across all of its COVID-19 testing locations.
2 months ago
A Bashas’ worker gets a dose of COVID-19 vaccine in March, when demand for vaccinations was high....
Ulysse Bex I Cronkite News

Experts hope FDA’s full Pfizer vaccine OK boosts Arizona vaccinations

Health officials expressed hope Monday that the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will boost vaccinations in Arizona, which lags well behind the national average.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Why fall maintenance is important for your heating system and A/C

It’s easy to ignore your heater and air conditioner when they’re working but the moment something breaks, you will likely regret not keeping up with maintenance. After all, if something goes wrong, you may be stuck with a repair that will take longer and be more expensive than simple maintenance.
...
Sweet James

Best fall road trips to take on a motorcycle

Autumn in Arizona brings the beauty of color-changing leaves and a relief from summer heat. It’s one of the most pleasant times to explore the outdoors, especially on a motorcycle.
...
Chris Kennedy

My Special Aflac Duck® taking flight in Arizona

For more than 65 years, Aflac has had the extraordinary opportunity and privilege to help provide peace of mind to individuals who have our supplemental insurance policies.
Lack of broadband puts Havasupai tribe, rural areas ‘in jeopardy’