Press Release Tech Policy in the Pandemic Rural Broadband Access

Consumer and Tribal Groups File Motion Urging FCC to Extend 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window Deadline

July 22, 2020 , , , ,
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Yesterday, Public Knowledge joined the National Congress of American Indians, AMERIND Risk, and the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association in filing an Emergency Motion for Stay of the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window with the Federal Communications Commission. The “Tribal Priority Window” allows tribes to apply to receive free spectrum licenses on the 2.5 GHz band — crucial for expanding 5G to Tribal lands. The groups urge the agency to extend the deadline to February 3, 2021.

As the Motion explains, “[T]he ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began almost simultaneously with the opening of the Tribal Window on February 3, have impacted American Indians and Alaska Natives on Tribal lands harder than any other community in America, a situation further aggravated by the lack of reliable broadband on Tribal lands. Unless the Commission extends the Tribal Window, hundreds of eligible Tribal nations will miss this unique opportunity to provide 5G service to their people.”

The following can be attributed to President Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Indian Nation and President of the National Congress of American Indians:

“As a direct result of COVID-19, an extension of the 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority filing window is essential. With the highest per capita rates of infection, Tribal communities are disproportionately impacted by this pandemic. As a result, Tribal Nations are currently providing essential services to their communities and dedicating resources to the unique circumstances of COVID-19 response that would otherwise be used on opportunities like the 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority filing window.”

The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“Tribal lands have the worst access to broadband in the country — even when compared to other rural communities. COVID-19 has forced Tribes to close Tribal offices, shutter Tribal businesses, and focus their resources on meeting the urgent needs of their communities. Indeed, nearly 51% of eligible Tribal lands are located in states experiencing record-breaking new cases of the disease.

“The pandemic, combined with the widespread lack of reliable broadband access the FCC designed the Tribal Window to address in the first place, has stressed tribes to the breaking point. If the FCC fails to act, it is likely that fewer than 20% of eligible tribes will apply for the free spectrum licenses in time — depriving the least connected rural Americans of 5G access when they need it most.

“We call on the FCC to fulfill its promise to Native Americans on Tribal lands by extending the application deadline to next year. Tribal communities deserve better.”

The following can be attributed to Geoffrey Blackwell, Chief Strategy Officer and General Counsel at AMERIND Risk:

“By every measure that is important, Indian Country lags far behind the nation as a whole in terms of high-speed internet. This decades-long hardship is simply unacceptable. Tribal Nations are as vibrant as ever, both an important part of the history and modern culture of the United States. Tribal Nations and their peoples contribute greatly to local and regional economies in all regions of the country, yet they are consigned to second class citizenship when it comes to the most important critical infrastructure of the 21st century: broadband.  

“For far too long, Tribal Nations have been on the wrong side of the digital divide. The reasons are simple and must be addressed at their core. Tribal Nations themselves must be recognized as being capable of helping solve the problem, and the 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Window will make good on the promise of providing wireless licensing directly to Tribal Nations. At AMERIND Risk, we work with hundreds of Tribal Nations across the country on a daily basis, and we know how profoundly Indian Country has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all governments during these unprecedented times, Tribal Nations are massively engaged in efforts to protect and provide for their people.

“The promise of licensed spectrum in the 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Window will bring broadband opportunities to many Tribal Nations for the first time, but that promise can only be fully realized if they are afforded a fair opportunity to participate. The only way to provide that fair opportunity is to grant Indian Country’s Emergency Motion for more time in the face of this nationwide pandemic.”

The following can be attributed to Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association:

“We’ve been fighting for two decades to get broadband infrastructure to support our communities. We have been doing this when others have not; when carriers have failed to deploy, even though subsidized to do so; and when we were unable to compete in auctions where spectrum goes to the highest bidder in the billions of dollars. And we have fought for equitable access to the internet, even when stimulus funding programs missed the broadband mark for Indian Country. In the face of FCC regulations that have favored private companies that have not built out, we have also been left to build infrastructure with the small “unlicensed” slice of spectrum for the general public. We know that we need licensed spectrum provided directly to us, rather than licensed and warehoused by the companies and never built out. We also know that there are 8,000 miles of missing middle-mile fiber to connect reservations to the rest of the world that have been quantified, but remain unaddressed.

“Many Tribal Nations have built networks, and have shared those successes with others. We expand upon our opportunities by partnering with each other and in the research and education networks in our regions. Tribal Nations find and leverage multiple opportunities that others will not, such as actually fulfilling ‘dig-once’ trenching guidelines and thereby spending Tribal money to deploy our own assets when Federal program restrictions won’t allow us to support our whole communities.

“Now, here we are in a worldwide pandemic, when every conceivable timeline has been stretched to accommodate the hardships that all communities are facing in the virus-riddled landscape, yet we have not been afforded the common courtesy of an extension so that our Tribal Nations can take advantage of the first time an FCC Tribal Priority Window is offering  broadband spectrum. The time is now for the FCC to step up and extend the window.”

You may view the Motion for Stay here. You may also view our recent blog post, “FCC: Don’t Abandon Tribes During a Pandemic, Extend the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window,” for more information on why the FCC should extend the deadline for tribes to apply for spectrum to connect their people.