Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-NM) introduced a bill to expand the FCC’s 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window. This bill will allow tribal nations and native Hawaiian organizations the time they need to apply for spectrum licenses for unassigned spectrum over their own lands–a critical step to expanding broadband access in their communities.
The FCC created the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window last year to provide tribal nations and native Hawaiian organizations an opportunity to apply for spectrum licenses over their land. However, the window expired in September before many were able to apply–in some cases due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initial window was six months. The FCC extended it one month, but the window closed September 2. Tribal nations, native Hawaiian organizations, telecommunications groups and bipartisan Senate and House lawmakers seek a longer window.
The Extending Broadband Tribal Priority Act of 2020 would require the Commission to open a new 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window that lasts at least 180 days, to commence no later than 30 days after the bill is enacted.
“Far too many Native communities lack reliable internet access, shutting them out of a 21st-century economy and limiting their access to life-saving services. This crisis is even more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic. The FCC should have recognized this and extended its last Rural Tribal Priority Window by at least 180 days. But it didn’t, so Congresswoman Haaland and I are leading this bill to give tribal nations a real chance at increasing their internet access,” Warren said.
“Every community needs access to life-saving telehealth services, education, unemployment benefits, but the FCC consistently denied and restricted Tribes from deploying reliable wireless broadband internet. Tribes can’t afford to wait any longer, so we’re introducing a bill that creates a new window for Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to apply for broadband spectrum, so that they have the ability to focus on combating this virus and deploy wireless internet access that they desperately need,” said Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.
The United States scores above the world average for connection rates to fixed broadband services for Americans living off tribal lands at 92 percent, but only 65 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands have access to these wireless services, according to the lawmakers. This leaves approximately 1.5 million people on reservations without access to basic wireless services.