Ask Me Anything! with Adam Geisler, President and COO of Tribal Ready

Ask Me Anything! with Adam Geisler, President and COO of Tribal Ready Banner Image

Nov 17, 2023


About Our Distinguished Guest

Geisler is a member of the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians.

Geisler worked at the US Department of Commerce for 8 years and formally served as the Division Chief for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, deploying nearly 2 billion in funding to connect 158,000 tribal households. He also served as the Department of Commerce’s broadband Tribal subject matter expert for the White House Council for Native American Affairs Economic Development, Energy, and Infrastructure Committee. Geisler is formally the National Tribal Government Liaison for FirstNet, a sister bureau within the Department of Commerce focused on building a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.

Geisler is a former Tribal Leader, serving 3 terms as elected Tribal Council Secretary for the La Jolla Tribal Council, a federally recognized Tribal Government. During his time in and out of elected office, he has shaped national, state, and local policy and deployed infrastructure projects surrounding transportation, public health, gaming, economic development, energy, housing, emergency management and communications, and broadband. 
Geisler holds a Bachelor of Arts and Science degree from San Diego State University and is a recipient of the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) under 35 Young Achievers Award for his work in bringing public safety broadband access to Native communities.

Read the Background on Tribal Ready

Event Transcript

Adam: And the connection is stable.

Ben Kahn: Yes, appears to be.

Adam: All right. Good.

Ben: All right, we are live. Happy Friday to the broadband community. Thank you for joining us for our latest episode of Ask Me Anything. Today, we are joined by President and Chief Operating Officer of Tribal Ready, Adam Geisler. Adam is a member of the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians and is a recovering bureaucrat.


Ben: Adam served as a Division Chief for the tribal connectivity and nation-to-nation coordination with the NTIA from 2015 to 2023, where among other things, he worked to combat the misconception that tribes were uniquely difficult to work with. Adam, thank you for joining us today. Thank you for giving up some time to come on the show. It's great to have you.

Adam: Hey, Ben, happy to be here. I appreciate the invitation, man. Looking forward to the conversation.

Ben: Yeah, definitely. Before we drill down into the role that you're in now, can you tell us a little bit about the work that you did with the NTIA leading up to you joining Tribal Ready? 

Adam: Sure. Let me, I guess, first start by saying, one, thanks for the time, Ben, and Broadband Money for the opportunity to share a little bit with the broadband community here. First and foremost, I'm an enrolled member and citizen of La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians, also known as the Payómkawichum people in our traditional language. And my time into broadband is a lot like other folks that come from indigenous communities that I kind of fell into it. So prior to joining the Tribal Ready family, I served as the Division Chief for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program at NTIA, that's $3 billion of funding that I was responsible for building the programming, conducting the consultations, building the entire team around it and moving forward in the implementation. And it was really the tip of the spear for a lot of the infrastructure money in general that was focused on Broadband that came out with this last administration.

Adam: And prior to that, I also spent some time in commerce, total eight years, nearly a decade where before going over to NTIA for the Tribal Broadband program, I actually helped to build out the FirstNet tribal components essentially over at Department of Commerce, working with the and eventually the contractor that was hired, AT&T. Prior to that, I spent a little bit of time as a tribal leader, and some folks asked me, "Adam, what were you thinking joining government?" And I don't know, [chuckle] to be blunt. I just got tired of being a tribal leader in consulting with people, which was, I don't know, a $5-word for conversation, I guess. But nobody would do anything.

Adam: And so my foray out of tribal leadership and into Federal Service was really the impetus was to go make a dent, 'cause I got tired of hitting my head against the wall, and I wanted to figure out how can I navigate things inside the government in a way that is helping people see the benefits of what tribes bring to our nation. I'm an American citizen too. I wanna make sure I [chuckle] recognize this. We talk about Indian country. We see ourselves as both members and citizens of our traditional homelands and our people and our nations, but we're also absolutely Americans. We care about the success of this country and our surroundings, our neighbors just as much as the next person does. So, I don't know, man. My whole life has been around just trying to figure out how I can help, and government was an interesting place to try to figure out where you could help. I'll tell you that.

Ben: So you said something that... I do just wanna bring this up. In Ask Me Anything alumnus or alumni, Joshua Broder from Tilson said, "Everyone who's in broadband has a story about how they accidentally ended up in broadband." So I love the fact that you're kind of continuing this tradition of people who didn't grow up saying, "I wanna grow up to be a broadband advocate," but here you are working for Tribal Ready. And this leads me into my next two points I wanna ask you that are related. The first one is, I want you to talk a little bit about something that I know is really important to Tribal Ready, which is tribal sovereignty. And what that means, if you can talk about that for everyone on the call. And I'll actually let you go into that before I bring up the second point.

Adam: Sure. Thank you for asking that question. I guess for the listeners too in full candor, I have not seen the list of questions Ben is gonna fire at me today. But sovereignty is an important element of recognizing the unique nature of tribes. And what I mean by that is, in order to understand sovereignty, you need to understand that tribes are while, yes, a minority, far more than that, in regards to its political standing, tribes' political standing with the United States government. I've met so many people in the 20 years I've been out professionally working that, trying to get folks to learn how to work with tribes. And the sovereignty question always comes up because it's hard for folks to grasp that there are tons of little nations within our nation that you drive through, there's no checkpoints, you maybe see a road sign. And so folks know we're generally here, but they don't really understand the nuances of what sovereignty actually means and what that federal recognition of tribal sovereignty empowers. And the short of it is, is it's the ability to govern your people, your lands, your processes, and your needs in a way that meets the needs of your nation, of your tribal government.

Adam: It's analogous to, in a lot of ways, the way in which we interact with foreign nations. Again, tribes, there's a nuance when we talk about tribal sovereignty 'cause we are what some folks sometimes describe as a "dependent sovereign," meaning that our lands which are ours are held in trust to us by the federal government. And so it's a unique kind of double-edged sword where we are sovereign when it comes down to anything that states wanna impose on us, they can't. Anything that local governments, counties, municipalities want to impose on us, they can't. The one instance where we do have to be mindful about how our sovereignty is exercised boils down to what federal rules, laws, and regulations exist.

Adam: And Indian country is, well, complicated not. And what I mean by that is, even in these instances where there are these direct political relationships, there are nuances between each individual tribe's relationship with the federal government in their treaty rights or in the way in which they were formed and recognized by the government. But an overarching element here is ensuring that people recognize the tribes have the right, the sovereign right to control all things within the boundaries of their lands, with the exception of not violating federal laws and regulations, 'cause again, the property is held in trust essentially to us by the federal government.

Ben: I'll at least speak for myself, but I'm sure that this applies to more people on the call, is that I didn't realize quite how much of the United States is entrusted to tribal groups, like more than 40 million acres in Alaska. I won't give a direct percentage, but a way higher percentage of land in Oklahoma, for example, a large swath of the state is entrusted to tribal land, so I think people are underestimating just how much a section like this applies to, how much of the country it applies to.

Adam: Yeah. 574 federally recognized tribes are in this country today.

Ben: Yeah, and I wanna emphasize something you just said, which is the federally recognized, because obviously there's a long history to tribes that are not federally recognized and tribes that are working to become federally recognized, for our audience here.

Adam: Yeah, you'll hear this term thrown around a lot. Are they federally recognized or not? Everybody has their own views internally, the tribal communities, about how we interact and treat those that are not. But the history of the United States and its policies with tribes is messy. And I think most people recognize they have a sense of like, yeah it was bad, or the history there isn't a real clean history. Which is true, but that also means that part of the history that's gone on with tribes is there was a point where tribes will recognize... In fact, tribal nations are recognized in the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. So the recognition of who we are is literally founded in the creation of the nation of the United States where that recognition comes from.

Adam: There has been a period of time called the Termination Era where tribes that were federally recognized were actually removed from the list of being recognized in an effort to take lands, property, mineral right, you name it. We all have heard the stories. And then there was an opportunity where tribes pushed to be re-recognized again in the Self-Determination Era, where tribes went through a process of being re-recognized by the United States government. And so today, you actually have... Virginia is a great example. The list continues to grow of how many federally recognized tribes there are in the country as time and policy and politics run their course. And so what I would say is...

Adam: And I'm just gonna tie this into BEAD for a second. I don't even know the full list of how many state-recognized tribes there are, or tribal communities that may not be recognized but 100% function still as a traditional tribal government or community. But Virginia is a good example of this. A lot of the tribes in Virginia have been there for forever. There's not a question. You can go check the history books. You can meet people in DC that are from the DC area, from tribes in DC, Virginia, Maryland area, right? Not a hard thing to do. But over the last few years, a handful of those tribes have actually been recently recognized by the federal government, and that has made them eligible for federal resources that are, again, tied back to trust and treaty obligations to tribes.

Adam: So when it comes down to working with tribal communities, I just wanna make something really simple for everybody that's trying to demystify this. Don't ask, "Are you federally recognized?" Don't ask, "Are you state-recognized?" and also don't try to over-relate to folks. If you're trying to bridge those relationships, start with just a simple conversation, asking who the family are and what they're about, keeping in mind that the relationship between tribal people and the United States government really is not a one-size-fits-all. The framework, the patch work, how this country has been created and who settled where, when, why, how across the United States... Don't forget, we had the French, we had the Spanish, we had... The Swedes were over. There's been a lot of different folks; the Russians, if you talk about the folks up in Alaska, and the Japanese as well. It's important not to lose sight that Native American history is not a one-size-fits-all. And as a result, the way in which folks are seen by the federal government is different because of that region, that history, that tribe's own interactions and past. So there you go.

Ben: For our audience, I want to emphasize how important what we're talking about here. I think we just said the word "broadband" maybe three times [laughter] since we started. But I remember the first time I walked into a talk by Joe Valandra, who's the CEO of Tribal Ready, and we spent probably the first 40 minutes just talking about history, and he would answer any question that somebody had. And when you understand that, or when you begin to understand the context, that's where a lot of things start to fall into place. So even though we may have only said "broadband" a handful times so far, I wanna emphasize that this is really important stuff to our audience who might not be familiar with some of these issues. And I want to tackle something that you just raised. Adam, I don't know if I shared the script with you because I think you're preempting all of my questions. But when it comes to... There's an expression that I've heard a lot, which is, "If you've met one tribe, you've met one tribe." And I think you said a lot about that just now, but if you can just put a fine point on what that expression means and why it's so important.

Adam: Sure. It's no different than... You look at a state, for example, and you start to look into the dynamics of counties, right? And so I have to laugh. My tribe is in California, I live in Southern California. The moment I leave California, people just hear, "Oh, you're from California." They don't go, "Oh, are you from Northern California? Central California? Southern California?" And then even within the context of California, when you say Southern California, people go, "Well, are you from the valley? Are you from LA? Are you from Orange County? Are you from San Diego? Are you from the Inland Empire?" And very quickly, you start to dissect and segment out the different cultures that exist across the state, across the region, across the county. Tribes are no different. And so when you've worked with one tribe, you've met with one tribe, you really have only learned and understood the value systems, culture, customs, and traditions of that one tribe. And I'll take it a little bit further, which is... I'm gonna use a historical reservation example.

Adam: I'm part of the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians or the Payómkawichum people. We're a band of multiple bands or segmentations of the Luiseño people that were around Southern California, distinct reservations all through where I live, actually 19 in San Diego County. Most of North County tribes are Luiseño and a couple in the Riverside County area. And we're all inter-married. I have cousins from all of these other reservations that are neighbors, next-door neighbors, and our politics are completely different between our tribes. Our governance structures are completely different between all of our tribes. Even in the way in which... And we're all technically the same people, even the way in which we view cultural preservation is different, and here's my example then.

Adam: There was a project going on and somebody found a bowl, okay? A 1000-year-old bowl. But it's a bowl. And my grandmother was still alive, and I remember going and talking to her and I said, "Grandma, all the tribes were debating on what we do with this bowl because it wasn't on any one tribe's land, it was technically on county land, and so we are trying to figure out how are we gonna tell the county how to deal with this 1000-year-old bowl?" And our tribe took the attitude of, "You go around it," right? At the end of the day. And even within my own tribe, there was a debate amongst folks. The neighboring tribe said, "Why are you gonna make people go around it? Let's just go get the bowl, and let's go put it in the museum, and let's move it out of the way so people don't mess with it." And it's a bowl, right? Their view was it's not some sacred bowl used for ceremonial anything. It was a bowl, right? 

Adam: And then another tribe down the road said, "You don't touch it, you don't go around it, you can put concrete over the top, cap it, preserve it, and move forward with your project." Because in their mindset, it was a bowl, it was put there for a reason so just leave it alone. And so here we are, where you have multiple tribes, we're all inter-married and/or cousins of one another, who have three, four completely different view sheds on how we're supposed to deal with this artifact from our people from a thousand years ago. And so that's I think the best example of, it seems like we're all the same or it seems like we may have a lot of commonalities, and we do, but there's absolutely differences between how we think, function, operate, and what our cultural values and norms are, and how we weave that in to the lens in which we approach, in this instance, broadband, right? And I'm gonna digress for 30 more seconds, man.

Ben: Sure thing.

Adam: Broadband is no different in that what we do at Tribal Ready, for example, is we help tribes understand how their sovereignty can be exercised in the broadband space. Some tribes wanna build and own and operate their own ISPs. They have every intention of owning that utility and doing their thing, and they're learning how to do it. Other tribes, they know they need the internet, and they really don't like their local Tier 1 for whatever has gone on, whoever their carrier is, so they're looking for somebody other than who they've been working with to come in and solve that problem, and they're happy to pay somebody to do it. Right? Then there's others that are just like, "You know what? This is great and all, but we're just gonna stick working with the big Tier 1. We're not structured or set up in order to manage these resources. And we're happy to subsidize the build, we're happy to pay for this service, and we're good."

Adam: In all three of those examples, as long as the tribe understands and evaluates what's in front of them, each one of those is an example of digital sovereignty or tribes exercising their sovereignty over the way in which they want to receive services and interact with broadband, what I call utility, at the end of the day. So I guess I kinda went from, here's an example of how we're all different. And I guess what I want folks to understand is, is the way in which tribes are viewing broadband across this country is no different. And that means one tribe may say, "I wanna build, own, and operate and be an ISP," and literally the neighboring tribe is gonna turn around and say, "I really don't wanna do that."

Ben: Right.

Adam: Right? And what we're doing is just helping people evaluate what those solutions are and making sure that data's managed when those things are happening, and they're not letting people monetize or take things from them as it relates to their information data without their knowledge or permission, or in many instances, compensation, ie, fabric map, not to poke at anybody.

Ben: So we are gonna talk a little bit in generalities today, but again, for the audience, I think it's important that you keep all that stuff that Adam just said kind of in your mind, that while there might be some general advice that's put out there, "You've worked with one tribe, you've worked with one tribe." Okay, so now that we've said broadband like five times...

Adam: There you go.

Ben: I wanna shift gears into talking about... You Left the NTIA, and you join Tribal Ready. Why Tribal Ready? What was the impetus for you leaving? And I just wanna put this out there. We love the NTIA. We might take some cheap shots at them occasionally, we might make some fun, but it's because we love them, it's because we care. Shout-out to NTIA for revising their Letter of Credit guidelines. They're responsive. They listen. Having said all that, Adam, what was the impetus for leaving NTIA and joining Tribal Ready? Why Tribal Ready? 

Adam: Well, why Tribal Ready? I'm gonna answer why Tribal Ready, I'm gonna go backwards a little bit. Why Tribal Ready? It's native owned, operated, and controlled. It's real simple. The experiences that I've had in the broadband space over the last 15, 20 years have demonstrated to me that, to be blunt, industry has not understood Indian country, and those that have kind of figured it out have often taken advantage in ways that aren't appropriate. And so when I was looking at... Looking for a new change in speed, you know, I'm a father of four, I just wanna highlight that. There is also a point where you look at how you value your time and where you're spending it, and part of that transition was just around life decisions that benefited my family and freed up a little bit more time. Running a nationwide program is, with multiple layers of government and oversight, could be taxing on you at times.

Adam: But point being is, Tribal Ready, I think, one, I've had the opportunity to come in and shape the vision. I think that's one of the things that was most appealing. Two, tribally owned and operated. Three, it met the most important thing to me on how I navigate life and where I put my energy. Which is, am I doing good work with good people? This broadband space is full of really interesting folks, I am gonna be polite here, that are not good people [laughter] doing good work, unfortunately. They're people looking at how they can maximize profitability and bottom line. And look, I'm not gonna hate on people for making money, but I am gonna say that the amount of money that's been sunk by the federal government into industry, and this problem hasn't been resolved, is completely unacceptable from my perspective.

Adam: When my community and my kids came home from the local school district with tablets, they called me Mr. G when I was elected, "Mr. G, look, we don't need books anymore." And then they asked, "Well, how do we get on the internet?" and we didn't have it. That was an eyeopener to me. And the reality is, is that the investments that should have happened have not. Tribal Ready has created a path in which the voice of subject matter experts, professional, and weaving together solution sets that benefit community was really enticing to me. And to help navigate that and steer that as part of the executive leadership was beyond appealing. Now I'll also just say this, Ben, 'cause I got a lot of phone calls when I left, 'cause I think people were shocked.

Adam: I just wanna remind everybody, I didn't do NTIA TBCP. Before I did that, I was, at first, I spent nearly a decade in commerce. And look, I wanna just say this to all my former colleagues at the federal government. Keep doing what you're doing. It's not an easy job. For those of you that have never worked in federal service, I would encourage you to go do a stint to go see how the machine works, so you can help navigate and figure out what the solutions are when you leave. So I'll just say this, 'cause I was asked by... Am I allowed to say this? I don't think he'll mind. Alan Davidson had asked me when I jammed out, when I sat down to have the conversation with him about the transition, and he wanted to know why.

Adam: And fair question, right? "Adam, is everything okay? Did we do... " He was very, he... The man I wanna make that really clear and somebody that I admire and respect a lot. It's a difficult job in front of him. And a lot of people that are pulling on his interests, including... I was one of those guys, and I still may be in other fashions and forms. But one of the things that he asked was, "Adam, is everything okay? Where are we at?" and my response was, "You know, I've been here for nearly a decade." I think there was this analogy of, "Does it seem like a house is on fire?" And the answer was, "Look, no. No, the house isn't on fire at all." I mean, sure, just like anybody in their house, sometimes you burn breakfast or overcook dinner a little bit. It gets a little smoky in there, but it's not outside the house. And everybody can appreciate that. That works in teams or in processes. And you work on not burning the bacon the next day.

Adam: But the analogy that I used was, I'm leaving because I've built the home that I came here to build. And I built homes. I solved problems. And I think, one, he respected that a lot, that we could... I always have appreciated his open door policy. He and Doug Koff both had that policy with me and the entire Tribal team at NTIA, which I respect, again, a lot. You don't see that in other elements of government that I've interacted with in my career. But the bottom line was, is that the transition was about moving on to build the next thing, solving the next problem. And there are limitations as a federal employee [chuckle] that you just can't do. I could see philanthropy. I could see industry. I could see the banking sector. I could see all software solution sets. And not being able to weave those together in a way that that provided efficiency of federal fundings, obviously solving the connectivity issues that communities like mine and other indigenous communities needed to see, you can only do so many things until you can't.

Adam: I'll leave you with this one other component of this, which is a problem that I've seen in the tribal broadband space. I'm just gonna be blunt about it. I'm a believer that you don't wanna stay in any one thing for too long because it gets stale, right? You need fresh perspective in things. And more power to the people that have come to do this work before me. There's lots of big champions that have been out there. But I'll also just say the needle hadn't moved as much as I felt like it needed to. It was time to make a change, to go out and see what I could do to roll up my sleeves and to pursue how we fix these issues. And part of that is also opening up the door internally for people that also have the skill sets to grow. Meaning, people that are in leadership roles that have backfilled since I left NTIA, or even back at FirstNet. There's some amazing people that are over there. I'll even say this in my own tribal government.

Adam: I bowed out, I just didn't run again because I believe that you gotta have fresh people, fresh ideas, fresh things coming in if you're gonna solve problems. And on top of that, I didn't wanna be a guy, 25 years bureaucrat sitting in the federal government, and not giving other people opportunity to do the job that I did. I think it's important that in a space that there has not been capacity built, there's not a million tribal broadband engineers or internet experts. It's a small cadre of people. And you gotta get out of the way and let other people get those experiences, and go tackle new problems yourself and let other people gain, grow, and build that capacity. 'Cause at some point, they're gonna leave like me and take that into their community and help as well.

Ben: Before I ask my next question, I just wanna remind folks that if you look at the bottom right of your screen, you'll see a little speech bubble that says chat if you hover over it. If you click on that, you can open up your chat window and leave questions for Adam, and we'll weave them into the conversation. In the interim, I'm gonna keep asking Adam the questions I have for him. And you talked about you viewed yourself as a... You're someone who finds solutions to problems. Okay? So here's a really quick question. Try to keep it to one sentence if you can. Why is Indian country so impacted by the digital divide? You have 30 seconds.

Adam: Federal government hasn't upheld their trust responsibility, meaning, their obligation to provide health, safety, and welfare to tribal communities.

Ben: All right, all right, all right. That was a joke. I had no intention of you actually being able to answer that so concisely.

Adam: Well, then let me add a comma. And industry has also failed in learning how to provide those services when subsidized to do so. Just straight up, there's just no other way to say these things without being blunt. And I guess that's why we're here, right? The reality is, is that these issues have not been solved because the obligations of people who have been provided the funding to do so have not met those obligations, period. Now, folks sometimes say, "Well, Adam, you're sovereign too, right? How come the tribes aren't figuring this out? How come the... " You know, it's one of those instances where you don't know what you don't know.

Ben: Yeah.

Adam: And I have to laugh, right? I remember the first time I had to submit a grant application not realizing how data packets worked over and that my internet speeds meant I wasn't gonna be able to submit the application. And it was a multimillion dollar app that didn't go through. That was my first learning curve into how important the internet was for my community as a tribal leader. But not everybody I knew was writing grants. So not everybody had that experience. The pandemic, horrible. The silver lining of it from a broadband perspective in tribal communities is it was a wake up call. Right? When you're a tribal leader and you are getting phone calls from parents saying, "My kids need to do their education remotely," or elders can't go into their doctor's appointment in-person and they had to do virtual telehealth appointments, or you started seeing people's inability to go into grocery stores or how they had to do banking online for the first time. That was an eyeopener for everybody.

Adam: And so for those that are like, "Hey, where's Indian country at? If you're sovereign, how come... You can blame all these other people, Adam, but how come you just didn't solve it? Or why didn't tribes realize this was an issue before?" The short of it is, you don't know what you don't know until you run into a situation that forces you into recognizing how far removed you actually were from those resources. That's it.

Ben: Mike Faloon's question is gonna jump to the front of the line here just because I just want your blunt answer. Do you believe that the federal funding will close the digital divide for all of Indian country? 

Adam: No, not without flexibility.

Ben: So what do you mean by that? 

Adam: I mean that there's... That the potential is there, but the policies and statutes needed in order to actually accomplish it need to be revised. The problem with the way in which the federal government functions is that it's so big.

Ben: Yeah.

Adam: Right? And as a result, you get these big packages that are put through that are well intended, but there's never a revisit to how you actually fix the law or fix the program issues that are occurring. And a good example of this is deconflicting federal dollars. Right? The federal government says you're not allowed to... Congress has told the federal government and its employees, do not duplicate investments made by Congress across other programs. So if you got RDOF, you can't put reconnect on top of it, you better not be stacking BEAD on top of that, right? You can't be spending money that's duplicative. And here's the problem. There's no common sense behind that to some degree, right? The patchwork of wireless and wired connectivity in this country is fuzzy when you have to... Is fuzzy at best. So to give people no latitude or discretion in how that actually has to function or to not think through the nuances and the purpose for those solution sets is a miss, right? 

Adam: Wireless technology in the sense of mobility is very different than running fiber to the home. So why in the world would you take issue with somebody being able to make a cell phone call versus their ability to actually access fiber at their home in order to do tele-education or telehealth or work? Right? There's no flexibility at the end of the day and how those things are viewed, or there's not enough. So, Mike, good question. At the end of the day, I'm hopeful that there... Let me just dial this back and just say this one more time.

Adam: The people I used to work with in federal government across agencies, whether it was NTIA, FCC, Treasury, USDA, very well-intentioned people, highly under-resourced to actually accomplish the mission themselves, but motivated to try to solve this problem, no question. That being said, I'm sure many of them, I'm probably saying what they wish they could, I think everybody's recognizing that you can't expect people to solve problems without having the funding, without having the policy, and without having the human capital in order to successfully achieve those objectives. So I'm optimistic, but there needs to be a lot more flexibility from everybody, Congress, industry, local governments, in order to figure this out. I shouldn't forget schools, philanthropy, all of those is... That's how you're gonna solve this problem. Frankly, that's we're doing at Tribal Ready. That's why I left. I wanna weave all of these pieces together to actually fix these things or try to help folks solve these issues in indigenous communities.

Ben: Great. Great answer. Bruce and Felicia, I just want you to know that I see your questions. I'm gonna tie them into the next question I ask. But I do wanna tack on what Jace Wilson just asked where he said, "Follow-up queue, Adam, what about tribes, states, and BEAD? Will tribes get their share of BEAD? Will some states try to ignore the mandate to work with tribes?"

Adam: I think it's been pretty apparent that there are states act barring tribes from accessing dollars. Then you have folks on the other side of the spectrum that are doing everything they can to make sure that federally and non-federally recognized tribes are able to access the funding and benefit from BEAD. So I don't know. I don't know. I think it's kinda like when you've worked with one tribe, you worked with one tribe. It's the same thing with the states. I think that time will tell whether or not tribes got their fair share of the funding. I'll also say, the nature of politics, policy, and money, sometimes the need to get the dollars out the door outweighs the logic behind some of the ways in which you do it more efficiently.

Adam: And in some ways, again, well intended, when you're under resourced to try to figure out all of these problems, you're gonna have holes and gaps. And of course people are building the plane while they're flying it or whatever the analogy is. 'Cause when you look at the timelines that are in these statutes, the reality is, is that, yeah, there's gonna be gaps, there's gonna be holes because the timelines associated with getting these funds on the street are so fast that there's no way something isn't gonna get missed.

Ben: Right.

Adam: So back to my comment earlier, Ben, about flexibility. So, Jace, awesome question. Will tribes get their fair share? And my answer is, it depends on the state, and it depends on the flexibility of government, all forms moving forward in order for that to happen. And lastly, I'll say, I don't wanna just put this burden on the feds and the states alone. It's also gonna rely upon tribes voicing their needs to the states into the federal government, which many have started to do and done well. But it needs to be a louder voice, and there needs to be continued proactive approaches. You can't get fed if you don't ask to be, or if you don't go out and go hunting yourself a little bit, right? Start a hunting party and go after the money.

Ben: That's great. This is gonna be a multi-layered question 'cause I wanna work in a couple different aspects of it. But Felicia asked the question, "Would you say the Indian and rural communities are broadband kin in having a lot of the same issues, specifically infrastructure?" And before you answer that, I wanna tether in, [chuckle] 'cause we're trying to be efficient here, Bruce's question where he says, "Adam, has the 2.5 gigahertz tribal window been successful now that sometime has passed to reflect?" And the bow that I wanna put on these two questions is that, we talk a lot about how... At Ready, we talk a lot about how we love fiber. Fiber, that's the ideal. Everyone has access to hardwired internet. Obviously that's perhaps not feasible for every solution. And so in some rural areas especially, we see that kind of strategy where it's a mixture of technologies. So the caveat to all of this, the final point is, when it comes to technologies that tribes are looking at, they looking at mixed technology systems where there might be one aspect that's fiber, one aspect that's wireless. There's a lot of questions here, and I'm just gonna put those to you in a lump sum that you can address as you will.

Adam: Cool. All right. And I'm in the chat. Let me see. Felicia. First off, I'm gonna answer this question with a story. [chuckle] Best way to answer, like a lot of tribal cultures, I think you'll find like, "We're gonna answer it, but we're gonna go about it like this and then we'll land at the answer." When I was in the feds, a lot of folks were always trying to figure out my politics, 'cause I was there through three different administrations, right? I was there, Obama, Trump, and then President Biden. And so my kids at home, we actually joke, "Was it Uncle Barry? Was it Uncle Trump? Was it Uncle Joe?" Anyways, my kids are pretty funny with that.

Adam: They were always trying to figure out, "What are you Adam? At the end of the day, are you a D? Are you an R?" Everybody always kinda tried to figure out where I landed politically. And I always tell people I'm an I. And they go, "Oh, you're an independent. That's what that means. You're an independent." I said, "No, I'm an Indian. I really don't care about the party as long as whoever is there wants to work and play nice with others," right? Like I told you, I wanna do good work with good people. When you look at the dynamics between, and the relationships, and the parallels between rural America and Indian country, which is often located in rural America, the issues are pretty much the same, right? 

Adam: They're a long ways away from an internet exchange. The carriers don't care to go out to connect them because there's not a business model. The population bases are low. The data that's been entered into the fabric is inaccurate. They're also lacking critical water system infrastructure or access to affordable power infrastructure. So, yes, in a lot of the ways that a lot of the issues that are impacting rural America directly also impact Indian country. We saw this first and foremost at the Michigan Broadband Summit, which was an awesome event, by the way. I want to highlight the folks, the speakers that were there; Gigi was there and others. The state broadband office did an amazing job. I had a lot of fun because we had tribal people in there, and very rural Michiganders. I don't know what the right term is for Michigan. Don't hate me. And it was so much fun because I had a chance to actually moderate a discussion about the tribal broadband economy. And by the time we were done, we were navigating the similarities on how rural and tribal communities could be working together to solve their problems. Right? 

Adam: When we walked out of that room, you literally had these rural ISPs, rural communities and tribal communities talking about how they could build an international exchange across borders using tribal sovereignty to removing tariffs and taxes, to bring affordability into Northern Michigan, and to work with one another to solve problems. So to answer that question, I know it's a run-on a little bit, Felicia, yes, there is a ton of similarities, but the differences always do come down to the sovereign aspects of tribal nations and the way in which rural Americas organized and boroughs or, depending on the form of government that's being interacted there, and educating across one another, how they can work together and benefit.

Adam: So then the other question was on the 2.5. And another really, really great, great question. So, Bruce, you asked, is 2.5 Windows successful now that some time has passed to reflect? And I'm gonna say, yes, from the standpoint of, it's about damn time Spectrum was treated as a national resource. Right? A natural resource, meaning this: We all recognize that if we're homeowners or property owners, you can't walk into somebody's backyard and just go cut down their trees and take their trees. Right? You can't go into somebody's backyard that has a river and stick a piece of PVC in there and start taking the water outta the river. You can't go into somebody's backyard that has gold or silver and start mining and panning their gold and taking away their stuff. All of those are quantifiable, measurable, natural resources.

Adam: I should also say fish, elk, deer. We all recognize that those things are regulated. You do not go in and just take people's stuff on their property. Why has Spectrum not been thought about it in this manner? It's quantifiable, it's measurable, and it's auctioned off to the highest bidder. Right? I actually think... So to the point of like, was 2.5 successful? I view it as a success purely because it's the first time that folks recognized that tribes could have access to Spectrum, which frankly is theirs, and the ability to deploy it in a manner that met their needs. Right? And tribes are still working through that. Let's also not forget that when the window closed, there was a gigantic supply chain issue that was going on. And I know many tribes are actually, we're getting quoted six months a year on waiting for their equipment.

Adam: So was 2.5 a success? Yes, I believe it was from a practical and policy standpoint. But I'll also say, there's more Spectrum needed. There's still limitations on what you can do, as everybody probably that's on this chat recognizes. When it's quantifiable, it's measurable. There's different Spectrum that can do different things in different spaces, places, and with the right amount of power behind it, it functions differently. So at the end of the day, 2.5 was a good starting point, but it is by no means even close to the amount of Spectrum that is needed for tribes to be successful in this space. So, successful? Yes, win, but not enough. And again, I'll just say it, if it's over our lands and it's being auctioned off, why the heck don't we, one, get first right of refusal? And two, if you're gonna sell our stuff, why aren't you compensating us for it? And three, if we are being compensated for the resources that have been taken from our lands with our consent, we could probably use those resources to sustain our own networks, to sustain our own utilities, to sustain our own communities.

Adam: And now all of a sudden, rural America, tribal America has a creative way to solve problems. It doesn't cost the taxpayer any more money, and frankly, provides a resource to the rest of the country where they need it without robbing tribes of the resources they need to be successful.

Ben: I think you've basically answered that last question about mixed technology. The answer seems to me to be obvious that you guys are, tribes are, again, speaking in generalities, it's recognized that you need to have a mixed technology approach. Is that what I'm getting? 

Adam: Let's talk about that for a second.

Ben: All right, let's do it.

Adam: Let's talk about that for a second. Look, I love fiber, okay? But I also recognize that, one, fiber isn't gonna get everywhere in this country. Believe me, I have looked at a lot of maths to try to figure out how it's done with the money that's been allocated. You got to look at what a hybrid solution is. Right? I think that it's kind of like politics sometimes. People really want you so hard to be vetted in one mentality or one thought bucket, not realizing that at the end of the day, it's really more about common sense solutions based upon your reality of your environment. Right? I'll digress for 30 seconds. You're also talking to a guy who's the son of a geologist who was in the oil and gas industry, and whose mother is in the hemp industry. So my household [laughter] is... That's the upbringing that I've had.

Adam: So I take that experience that I've had in my own home, in the way I've been raised. And I think about it in the same sense as technology. Right? You don't pick one or the other. At the end of the day, you need to pick the things that make sense and that are affordable and sustainable for your communities. Right? I don't know a cell phone tower out there that doesn't connect at some point to fiber backhaul somewhere, right? You got to have fiber. But the reality is, is that the leveraging of Spectrum and how that is deployed across wireless technologies, be it fixed, fixed wireless mobility, or even the GEO LEO space, those are real solutions that solve real problems.

Adam: And I'll just come back to one other comment here. I'm talking to you from Starlink. I live in San Diego County. Right? Love the folks that have had some degree of service over the years. But the bottom line is, the best services I can get where I'm at right now is through LEO Satellite. So we at Tribal Ready are solution agnostic. It's about what's affordable, what's reliable, and what actually is gonna get you a level of service that you need, as opposed to trying to aim for the unobtainable and continue to have people unconnected that aren't able to interact in a digital world in society. [laughter]

Ben: That was a lot. [laughter] I'm reeling a little bit for a second. [laughter] The conversation around infrastructure feels something like, it's great to have these conversations about the physical infrastructure that we want to deploy.

Adam: Yep.

Ben: But it feels like some of these conversations are somewhat moot if we can't even find an address on a map.

Adam: Thank you. Thank you.

Ben: Well, this ties into a question that was asked by Susheel, who says, "Thank you, Adam, for the AMA. I've been notified multiple times that no source out there has an accurate or consistent mapping of tribal boundaries... " And I'm gonna add this in there. Tribal addresses, where the houses are, where are the institutions are. "Is this being addressed or is it because the boundaries are fluid? Is there any source which has the most accurate boundaries?" And I'm gonna put in there address level data.

Adam: Gotcha. All right. So let's dial this back down to who should have it, which is the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Before it was a land management agency, it was actually an arm of the United States military that was created to round up Native Americans and put them on Indian reservations, right? And/or remove them from lands of the United States at the time. Kind of crazy now that the folks that were tasked with moving tribes off of lands and other lands have now been tasked with the management of those lands, which includes mapping of citizens that are there. So in terms of whose job is it to actually have the most accurate up-to-date map. It is 100% the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It's a land management agency in a records management agency. Go ahead, Ben.

Ben: So you seem to put a lot of emphasis on the word "should." They should have it. Are those the people who do have it? 

Adam: I want to be mindful about, again, just reminding everybody that, one, until you've gone through federal service, you don't... It's really easy to sit on the other side of the phones, right? So I'm just gonna say this. BIA should and they are trying. There are some moving targets. One, tribes are buying land and converting it into trust lands every year. Right? They can buy county fee, simple property. And so there's that element. Two, it does really depend on the region of the BIA and how well resourced they are in order to keep up on the mapping exercises. Three, it is, how much are the tribes providing that information to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on a regular basis to ensure that their trust lands are documented correctly. So yes, it is a responsibility of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to ensure accurate mapping of tribal lands.

Ben: Interesting.

Adam: Yeah. Now with all that being said, rural addressing sucks. Right? In general, in tribal lands, I haven't had an address since I've lived here. I was able to get a... I don't even want to tell you how I had to go about getting my home built, 'cause you can't just go down to Wells Fargo and get a home loan 'cause you're technically on trust property. So how do they foreclose on your home if you were to default or whatever? There's a whole bunch of nuances there. But the point being, Ben, the way in which rural addressing works right now when you dial 911, is you send somebody to the end of the road and direct the ambulance how to get to your grandmother's house. I've had to do that multiple times. Or when your brother has a stroke or when your dad has a breathing episode or whatever.

Adam: So the mapping issue in this country on tribal lands and tribal households for a whole host of reasons, is a complete mess. And when you dovetail that in to the way the fabric map tried to include those, or you dovetail that in with the way in which folks are trying to come up with formula allocations for federal dollars, it just becomes a mess; or voting, or you can go down the laundry list of issues that that lack of addressing creates in tribal lands. We need a centralized, resourced, well-resourced, team of people to solve this problem. Right? It is the responsibility of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but I'm also just gonna be straight. They're notoriously underfunded to actually do the work. So again, it's so easy to beat up on some folks saying it's their job when you spend some time in there and you recognize they weren't resourced to do the job from the beginning. So then you put your head going, what's this all really about? It's easy to put it a simple hat on, but...

Ben: It's really difficult to hear that. I think of this obviously, addressing as like a broadband problem. And we don't have the addresses so we can't deploy infrastructure or it's held up. But it is really difficult to hear just the idea that you could, people are on the phone, directing emergency services to their house because their house does not exist on a map. That's a really difficult thing to hear.

Adam: I'll lay one other difficult thing out there for you before you ask your next one. I believe about 30% of tribal households are missing from the FCCs fabric map. Right? So here we launched this big initiative to go connect every household in America, including on tribal lands. And there was this big push to turn around and go add households to the fabric 'cause we went from the census block down to the... Now we're actually gonna go to the households. And I am amazed to see how many tribes we have talked to, or when we start to analyze what's actually in the fabric versus what the ground truth is, it's easily 30% of the homes are missing.

Ben: Jesus.

Adam: And then on top of that, there's unfortunately policies that when you figure it out at this point, you can't add the homes back in to connect them. So mapping is almost if not more important than actually running the infrastructure. 'Cause if you don't know where the hell you're running it, how are you ever supposed to... You don't have a problem if you don't know that you don't have a problem. Right? [laughter] Convenient.

Ben: Yeah. Well, there's a point that I want to introduce here in... Felicia, I... Or I'm sorry. Katrina, I will get to your question in just a moment. But there's another concept that I want to introduce that we've talked about on other shows in the past. So we've talked about tribal sovereignty, but now there's this other notion when there's address level data that's being circulated out there, this notion of data sovereignty. Can you speak a little bit to what data sovereignty is and why it matters? 

Adam: I realize that there's some fancy definitions from some academics out there, which is great. I'm gonna make it really simple. Data sovereignty...

Ben: So far, just for the record, the dumbing down thing has been great for me.

Adam: Well, look, it's so easy to get overly wordy about stuff. And look, data sovereignty is no different than it's an extension of what your sovereignty is in terms of controlling your land and everything that is within it. Right? So the unfortunate part about how data is levered today in the United States is like, for whatever reason, one of the only countries that still isn't really regulating this, I don't know why. But the bottom line is, is that data is probably the most important thing that you could ever have in the digital space. It sounds so straightforward, but tribes have actually been doing data and data mining for a very long time. Especially in the gaming operations space, right? Think about it. You walk into a casino and... And look, every tribe doesn't have casinos. I want to make that really clear. Every tribe isn't rich, and everybody, yes, pays federal taxes and all those little nuances. So let's just get that out of the way.

Adam: The reality of data sovereignty has actually been being exercised a lot longer than I think tribes realized that they were doing it. 'Cause they were just ornately exercising their sovereignty in the way in which they ran their properties and the way in which they were mining to help grow economy for their enterprises. You know Bob just signed up to stay at your hotel. And because Bob uses his player's card every time he goes to the cash register to buy a water or the ATM, or goes to sit down at the restaurant, by the time you're done, you have an entire view of what Bob's spend is at that property. And you realize that that is what's gonna drive how you're gonna market to Bob moving forward and what your marketing budget is, and all of that. Right? 

Adam: So data sovereignty is something that isn't new to tribes. I just don't think that they've been thinking about it in the context of more broadly how that same concept is applicable when you talk about health records, when you talk about other transaction history, other information that is floating over networks that they do not own. I'm gonna digress for 30 more seconds on this, Ben, because, I will just say this, I know a number of states right now are looking at statewide backbones, statewide essentially municipal networks. Which in many ways is the same thing that what tribes want to do, right? They're a government, they want to own and operate their own utility. So there's some parallel there. However, the idea of data sovereignty is an important one when you look at folks that are looking at this, because tribes and states don't historically get along well. Right? 

Adam: The idea of my tribe's information floating over a state backbone where they see data packets of everything that we are doing that may or may not align with their political interests is insane to me. So when we start talking about data sovereignty from the way in which I look at it, and the way in which we look at it at Tribal Ready is, it's an exercise over the ownership of whom has access to your information, period. Right? And you should have the discretion and the decision around who uses that, how they access it, how they monetize it, and if they're gonna be able to share it or not. Right? And the landscape right now, and just to be blunt, even in the creation of the fabric, did not contemplate that.

Ben: Yeah.

Adam: So you have this fabric map that's supposed to inform all of this, the spend of this money that essentially went and took tribe's information on behalf of the FCC generated it, and now the tribes in order to access the information have to do a limited waiver of sovereign immunity. They have to waive their sovereignty to access the information about themselves in order to actually get services from the federal government.

Ben: That's a little crazy. Yeah.

Adam: That's a little crazy. Yeah. You got to waive your rights to your data in order for you to get to your data. That needs to change.

Ben: Well, that's upsetting. But I told... [laughter] I told Katrina that we'd ask her question. I'm gonna switch gears here to an area where it seems like there's actually been some federal progress made, which is the letter of credit. So can you share, and this is Katrina's question, "Can you share your thoughts on tribes navigating the letter of credit waiver for BEAD?"

Adam: I'm trying to think about the best way to respond to this 'cause I... Number one, I'm happy that the agency has extended its flexibility in its treatment of the waivers of letters of credit. I'm trying to be careful with this, Ben, 'cause this is one of those that I worked on and had a sense that that change may have been coming and then it did, and it was good to see. So I don't want to duck it, Katrina, but I want to be careful about how I respond to it. So at the end of the day, I would say that tribes need to recognize... Here's how I'll answer this. Irrespective of what the policy was that NCIA recently put out, tribes have Executive Order 13175, which does one of two things: 

Adam: It first requires the federal government to consult on all matters impacting, and programs that directly impact tribal lands and their peoples. The second one is, it's a waiver executive order. So the ability for tribes to go to any federal program that didn't do consultation or that has put in place policies, again, often well intended but not thinking about the tribal implications, that waiver provision is in the executive order to be able to go to the agency and say, "Look guys, you missed it. [laughter] So look, remember the unique political relationship? We're not asking you for something special because the Indians want something we're asking because you didn't think about us in the way you should have in the trust and treaty relationship politically, and we're gonna ask you to waive it." And often, and this administration has actually been pretty good about, doing waivers where they're pertinent. So tribes that are looking to go through the waiver process for BEAD need to lever Executive Order 13175, to the fullest in navigating what that process, and navigating that process for their needs.

Ben: Adam, we're almost out of time. We have another minute. We still have questions that we're just not gonna get through. Hopefully, we can have you back again at some point. But what I want to end on, I think you gave a really insightful piece of advice at the outset of this conversation, where you gave a somewhat straightforward piece of advice that was just, when you are engaging with these tribal groups, and again, in an effort to kind of minimize generalities. You gave this piece of advice which was basically summed up as: Just be human, come to them, ask them, just how you interact with them in a way that is congruent with how you'd interact with anyone else. But is there any... As we're about to close out, what is another piece of advice, something like that, something that people might be overthinking all of this. What can they do? What can they bring to the table that sets them up for success when looking for partners in native communities? 

Adam: Don't talk about work. It's really simple. Tribes are really good at running their own utility. They've been doing it a long time. Water systems, road systems, the power systems and grids. Broadband is a new utility and a new vernacular, but it's not necessarily a new concept on how it functions broadly. Right? That being said, the vernacular scares the hell out of a lot of people in Indian country. 'Cause they know they don't know, and when you come in and you start talking about spectrums and up and down speed and fabric maps and, "What's your fiber count and where's your local exchange?" you start throwing these buzzwords around that folks that are in industry understand, you lose them in a lot of ways. And so what happens is... And this is kind of Indian country in general. I always tell people, go meet them as people and don't talk about work.

Adam: Because the moment you start talking about work and it becomes something that's a new vernacular to them, they stop paying attention to whatever you're saying. And the entire time, they're just trying to figure out if they can trust you. That's it. Right? You hear the saying like, in the first five minutes, you know if you're gonna work with a person or not, or you know if you're gonna have a relationship with that person or not. Indian country is really damn good at that. Part of that has been a defense mechanism because of our unique history. But I'll just say, at the end of the day, if you want to have success with tribes, one, come work with Tribal Ready. Shameless pitch, Ben. But two, recognize that you need to do two things. Don't try to overate. I always love the... It's actually like a cultural joke that everybody's grandmother was a great Cherokee princess.

Ben: Oh, yeah.

Adam: That is a legitimate cultural joke across all of Indian country. When you hear that, people just kind of roll their eyes and go, "Oh man, it's one of these guys." Don't be that person. Don't try to relate. If you're not a member of a tribe and you're not an enrolled member of a tribal community, don't try to relate familiarly like that, number one. Number two, is just simply show up and have a meal. Do not talk shop. Ask what they're doing for dinner. Ask if you can go have coffee with somebody. But I'll just say this, a lot of tribes in the way they function in this country, it centers around trust. They have no idea, or that they may be new to what the ideas are that you want to talk about for business. You're better off sitting down and demonstrating to them that you are a decent human being.

Adam: Because nobody wants to do bad work with bad people. That's why you heard me at the very beginning on the onset of this, Ben. The way in which I approach who I work with, why I work with folks, is no different than the way a lot of tribal communities and tribal leaders think about this. They just want to know that you're a decent person, that you're actually trying to do good work. And with that, trust comes. And there's a lot of trust issues. Everybody's got trust issues. I'm not gonna say it's unique to Indian country, but we have our own versions of those when it comes down to our land and utilities and people wanting to sell us things.

Adam: So if you want to be successful, I guess the last thing I would say with that too is, recognize that you don't know what you don't know, and hire experts that do. And over time you'll learn it. I'm not saying if you're a non-native person that you can't over time... One of my colleagues, former colleagues at NTIA, she's very humble about it. She's actually a federal program officer for the state of Pennsylvania for NTIA. Her name's Nicole Ugarte. I'll give a shout-out to her. I would send her into any reservation in America or ANC or village community in Alaska. There's a whole nuance there. She's not native, but she understands a level of humility and respect and building a relationship in those communities. And that's what this boils down to.

Adam: Solving the damn internet. Fix the damn internet. I hear that. I love that slogan, by the way. It's gonna happen with people actually recognizing that in order to solve problems, you need to be able to talk to each other. And you need to be able to talk to each other as people, and be candid about where the issues are, and build trust amongst one another. I feel like that's missing to some degree in the broadband space. But I do believe that folks like Tribal Ready, the work you guys are doing and being able to have these conversations is the most important thing in being able to get folks to understand how you work with tribal communities in fixing the digital divide.

Ben: I can't think of a better way to close out our call here. For the people who remain on, a shout-out to, in a couple weeks, we will have a, and on-location and live, Ask Me Anything at BLS. We hope to have several state broadband officers, state broadband directors, part of that conversation. More information will be coming out over the next couple weeks. And that'll be on December 1st. From the entire community, from myself, from everyone at Ready, Adam, thank you for taking the time outta your schedule. We've run over a little bit, but I just want to say thank you so much for coming to join. This has really been an amazing conversation.

Adam: Ben, from my household to you guys, you're doing good work. I really, appreciate the opportunity. And [1:05:21.5] ____, my heart is good. Thank you. Thank you again for the opportunity to share today. And for everybody that's on, I really appreciate the questions and comments. Thanks.