Press Release

FCC Proposes New Program to Promote Tribal and Rural Wireless Services

November 18, 2021
newspaper

Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program (ECIP). ECIP is intended to promote spectrum availability to small carriers and Tribal Nations. This program would help close the digital divide that exists on Tribal land and throughout rural America by encouraging large carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to make their unused spectrum available for use by Tribal entities or other carriers.

Wireless licenses auctioned by the FCC can cover large geographic “license areas,” sometimes up to tens of thousands of square miles. The high cost of these licenses ensures they are virtually all acquired by national providers primarily interested in serving denser, more profitable cities and suburbs. Because of the high cost and low return on investment, these providers generally do not deploy on Tribal lands, and limit their deployment in rural communities to the minimum required by the FCC. Tribes and smaller rural carriers cannot access the spectrum held by these exclusive licenses in order to serve their own communities.

Public Knowledge commends this proposal, which explores ways to encourage or require holders of these exclusive licenses to make their unused spectrum available to Tribes and to competing rural carriers. This will allow Tribal governments and local businesses to serve their communities and create local jobs.

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

“Any carrier coverage map you look at has plenty of empty spaces. But those empty spaces are home to millions of rural Americans. When carriers don’t want to build out to these ‘wide open spaces,’ the FCC should find ways to let those who live in these communities build their own 5G networks. Today’s FNPRM provides an opportunity for rural, Tribal, and other stakeholders to help inform the FCC on proposals to encourage carriers to split off spectrum in areas where they won’t build networks, and make that spectrum available to those who will build networks.

“This is particularly true for Tribal lands. Tribal lands are among the worst connected places in America as a result of policies that have traditionally required them to rely on outside carriers. Recent FCC initiatives have made more spectrum available to Tribes, and Tribes have been seizing this opportunity to take control of their digital future and build their own networks. Today’s proposal explores ways to return to Tribes greater control over their own portion of the public airwaves.

“Public Knowledge applauds this recognition of the importance of working with Tribal governments, and the effort to address the damage of decades of federal policies electronically isolating Tribal lands.”