The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved Monday’s deadline another 30 days to September 2nd for Tribes to apply for free licenses to use broadband airwaves on their land.
The FCC program, Rural Tribal Priority Window, allows Tribes to obtain free, mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses that would empower Tribes to build fast wireless networks, even across difficult terrain.
The opportunity could also be a revenue generator by giving Tribes an asset that many telecom companies want. Any unused portions of the available frequency will likely be sold to large telecom companies for possibly millions of dollars.
Tribes advocated for their priority rights to the airwaves that are mostly unassigned across the western United States. They can be leveraged for fixed or mobile internet service. So far, nearly 230 Tribes or Tribal entities have applied for the spectrum licenses.
According to an American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University study released last year, two-thirds of people living on rural Tribal lands lack high-speed Internet, while 18 percent of people living on reservations have no home Internet access at all.
Native Business Executive Editor Carmen Davis recently put that into perspective: “That’s disconcerting always — but that reality is exacerbated during a global pandemic that amplifies socioeconomic disparities and deepens the fissure between lands connected to the Internet, and thus educational and economic opportunities, and those disconnected or off the grid.”
As Matthew Rantanen, director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, told the AP: “This is about Native children and distance learning. This is about Native communities and telemedicine. This is about the health and safety and life of Tribal members.”
Native Business recently dove into the digital schism between Indian Country and the rest of the nation, while tapping into opportunity that exists for Tribes, in the article Hoping for a Silver Lining: Tribes Take on the Digital Divide in the Covid-19 Era by Rob Capriccioso.