May 03, 2021
BRUNSWICK, ME – U.S Senator Angus King (I-Maine), co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, is cosponsoring the Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act of 2021, legislation to expand the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC's) 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window. If enacted, the legislation would provide tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations with additional 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 in 2019 to provide tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations an opportunity to apply for spectrum licenses over their land. Even when the Window was still open, the FCC received numerous requests to extend the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window for application by no less than 180 days from the original deadline of August 3, 2020. The FCC refused to implement an extension and instead added a severely limited 30-day application period. The Window expired on September 2, 2020 before many tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations were able to apply – in some cases due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and the FCC declined to extend the deadline any further, refusing multiple requests made by tribal nations, Native Hawaiian organizations, telecommunications groups, and bipartisan Senate and House lawmakers.
“A high-speed, reliable, and affordable broadband connection is a critical part of success in the 21st century, helping millions access economic opportunity, pursue their education, receive important medical care through telehealth services, or stay connected to loved ones across the globe,” said Senator King. “It is absolutely essential that we extend these high-speed connections to every corner of our country – including Native communities, who are being left behind at a much higher rate and facing a widening digital divide. The FCC’s Tribal Priority Window was a good approach, but by refusing to adjust their timeline to allow for COVID-19 pandemic delays, they created unnecessary hardships that undermined the intent of their effort. Let’s take the simple step of extending this window, so this program can do what it was designed to do: ensure that Native communities can expand their broadband access.”
The Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act of 2021 will require the FCC 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. This bill will give tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations an adequate amount of time to apply for spectrum licenses to deploy much-needed internet services on their lands.
Today, 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 Americans living on tribal lands have access to these wireless services. This leaves approximately 1.5 million people on reservations without access to basic wireless services. Because tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations cannot access spectrum rights to deploy broadband and telephone networks over their tribal lands, in some of the most geographically isolated areas in the country, Native Americans continue to suffer from lack of access to life-saving digital services and broadband access that many of us take for granted. This further places tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations behind in the digital divide.
The Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act of 2021 specifically:
· Establishes a new 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window;
· Requires that the FCC open this new window no later than 30 days after the bill is enacted; and
· Creates additional time for tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations to apply for unassigned spectrum licenses over tribal lands to deploy internet services.
The bill has broad support, including from Access Now; AMERIND; AMERIND Critical Infrastructure; Center for Rural Strategies; National Congress of American Indians; National Consumer Law Center; National Hispanic Media Coalition; National Indian Education Association (NIEA); Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA); New America's Open Technology Institute; Public Knowledge; Pueblo of Jemez, and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.