The Federal Communications Commission has granted 154 broadband licenses ideal for high-speed Internet access to rural Tribal communities in Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona, and 25 other states.
“This is a major step forward in our efforts to close the digital divide on Tribal lands,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Few communities face the digital connectivity challenges faced by rural Tribes. By prioritizing Tribal access to this mid-band spectrum, we are ensuring that Tribes can quickly access spectrum to connect their schools, homes, hospitals, and businesses. Having visited many of these communities and met with Tribal leaders, I have seen first-hand the connectivity difficulties facing Native Nations. I am exceedingly pleased that — less than a year after we announced the timeline for the Rural Tribal Priority Window — we are now distributing 2.5 GHz band licenses to help Tribal communities bridge the digital divide.”
The Commission received more than 400 applications, and the priority window was extended due to the coronavirus pandemic. More licenses could be awarded as the FCC continues to review applications.
The Pueblo of Zia, just northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was among the first in line for the first batch of 2.5 GHz spectrum wireless broadcast.
“This is a great opportunity,” Zia Tribal Administrator Ken Lucero told the Associated Press. “Although we are only 17 miles from a large metropolitan area, we do not have access to high-speed internet. The 2.5 spectrum will now give us access to broadband for our schools, clinics and the community.”
COVID-19 has intensified the digital divide in rural Tribal areas. Remote learning and telemedicine have become increasingly important during the pandemic, making access to broadband even more vital.
According to a report prepared by legislative analysts, 55% of Native American students were unable to connect to online classes.
The FCC granting the licenses is the first step. In order to fully close the digital divide, Tribes need funds to install the internet infrastructure.
“It would be great if the FCC or Congress could now follow up with funding for projects,” Lucero added.