Haaland, Cole to Introduce Emergency Broadband Bill: ‘COVID-19 DISASTER in Indian Country Act’

Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chairs, Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) and Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) will introduce the “COVID-19 DISASTER in Indian Country Act” on Thursday, May 7, directing the FCC to grant Tribes access to spectrum on Tribal lands for immediate, emergency broadband deployment. 

Bill requests immediate endorsement and/or quotes here, due by May 6 at 5pm EST. 

A new Tribal broadband bill directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant Indian Tribes special temporary authority of available spectrum on Tribal lands for emergency broadband deployment. 

On Thursday, May 7, Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chairs, Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) and Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) will introduce the “COVID-19 Designation of Immediate Special Authority of Spectrum for Tribes’ Emergency Response in Indian Country Act” or “COVID-19 DISASTER in Indian Country Act.” 

Due to the disproportional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indian Country, the need for broadband and other wireless services couldn’t be more apparent, states an email  from Rep. Haaland’s team. 

Because Tribes have historically lacked access to spectrum to deploy broadband networks on reservations, 1.5 million people living on Tribal lands have been left without basic access to healthcare, public safety, and educational services. 

For the first time in history, the COVID-19 DISASTER in Indian Country Act bill will provide Tribes access to wireless networks over their lands to adequately deploy wireless services.

As part of this historic introduction, Rep. Haaland and Rep. Cole are requesting support in the form of an endorsement or quote (2-3 sentences) from Indian Country and allies for a press release to be published May 7. Provide your endorsement or quote here by May 6 at 5pm EST, “a strict deadline since the press release will need to be edited before it is published the next morning,” an email from Rep. Haaland’s team states. 

“Spectrum waves are not created by a telecom, they’re a natural resource,” Darrah Blackwater, a law student at the University of Arizona, stated during a virtual South by Southwest panel discussion on broadband in Indian Country. “They’ve been on the land since time immemorial. It’s the same as sunlight. In my view, it’s something that’s encompassed in the treaty. ‘For use and occupation’ in a treaty means that you get to use the spectrum.”

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