Senate Democrats and Independents reintroduced legislation this week to expand the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window.
The Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act of 2021, originally introduced in 2020, would allow tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations more time to apply for spectrum licenses for unassigned spectrum over their lands.
The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Angus King, I-Maine, Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Gary Peters, D-Mich., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.
The bill’s cosponsors call the legislation “a critical step to expanding broadband access” in tribal communities.”
The 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window was created by the FCC in 2019 and was intended to provide tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations an opportunity to apply for spectrum licenses over their land. Since its creation, the bill’s cosponsors said the FCC received “numerous” requests to extend the priority window for application by no less than 180 days from the original deadline of August 3, 2020. However, the senators note that the FCC refused to do so and instead added a limited 30-day application period. The window expired on Sept. 2, 2020.
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.
“Far too many Native communities lack reliable internet access – a crisis that shuts them out of a 21st-century economy, limits their access to life-saving services, and is even more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sen. Warren said. “The FCC didn’t sufficiently recognize the difficulties many tribal nations have faced, so I’m introducing the Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act of 2021 to give tribal nations a real chance at increasing their internet access.”
In a press release, the legislators stress that while 92 percent of Americans not living on tribal lands have access to fixed broadband services, only 65 percent of Americans living on tribal lands have access to the same services – meaning roughly 1.5 million people on reservations don’t have access to basic wireless services.
The bill has support from tribal nations, advocacy groups, and telecommunications industry groups, including, Access Now; AMERIND; Center for Rural Strategies; National Congress of American Indians; National Indian Education Association; New America’s Open Technology Institute; Public Knowledge; Pueblo of Jemez; Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe; Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition; and Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association.