Hundreds of tribes took part in the FCC’s spectrum priority filing window for licenses in the 2.5 GHz band. The window opened on February 3, and closed September 2. The FCC received more than 400 applications in what officials called a unique opportunity for eligible tribes to obtain overlay licenses for prime mid-band spectrum covering rural tribal lands to help address their connectivity needs and close the digital divide in tribal lands.
“Tribes showed tremendous interest in the 2.5 GHz band over the past several months, and I am pleased by the large number of applications the Commission has received. We are now a step closer to enabling tribal entities to obtain this spectrum for free and quickly put it to use to bring service to rural tribal lands,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
“Too often,” he said, “tribal communities are on the wrong side of the digital divide, but we’ve aimed to change that through this first-of-its-kind spectrum opportunity.” He cited the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Office of Native Affairs and Policy for contacting every federally-recognized tribe multiple times before the window opened. The staff also took part in dozens of outreach events and fielded hundreds of inquiries.
On July 31, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau extended the deadline by 30 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing more time for tribes to apply while not unduly delaying the grant of licenses to those that had already applied. FCC staff will begin reviewing the filed applications immediately, and will request additional information from applicants where necessary, seek public comment on the applications, and process applications.
Licenses issued through the Rural Tribal Priority Window will give tribal entities access to spectrum they can use to connect consumers living on rural tribal lands. Any remaining unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum will be made available by auction to facilitate the rapid deployment of wireless networks across the country. That auction is expected to begin in the first half of 2021.