Tribal Nations Can Claim Unlicensed EBS Spectrum

Roughly 554 Tribes in the United States have access to Educational Broadband Service (EBS) or spectrum within their Tribal territory. On July 10,2019, the FCC passed an order that enables federally-recognized Tribal Nations to claim unlicensed EBS spectrum over their lands before competitive bidding begins. 

A mere 90 days of education and outreach will be followed by a 60-day application window. The 60-day Tribal priority window opens February 2020 if the FCC is granted an accelerated review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Otherwise the window starts May 2020. Immediately following the Tribal priority window, remaining spectrum will be auctioned off by county.

Both EnerTribe, a 100 percent Native- and women-owned consulting firm, and MuralNet, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing broadband to under-connected people on Tribal lands, argue that those education/outreach and application windows are too brief for Tribal Councils new to EBS spectrum. The companies are encouraging Tribes email the OMB and the FCC by Thursday October 3rd for a later Tribal priority window with the subject line: “Transforming the 2.5 GHz band” at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]

EnerTribe and MuralNet offer the below considerations: 

  • EBS spectrum is in the 2.5 GHz band which is ideal for rural deployments.
  • There is up to 116.5 MHz of spectrum that could be available over all or part of Tribal lands.
  • Spectrum is an appreciating asset and EnerTribe recommends that the Tribal Councils & enterprises claim as much spectrum as possible.
  • FCC buildout requirements are aggressive but attainable.
  • Fixed-wireless networks are relatively cheap to build.
  • Competing claims to the same geographical service area (GSA) have to go to auction so interested parties should coordinate licensing. This could mean limiting the GSA, choosing different channels, etc.
  • Licensed spectrum can be leased to third parties.

EnerTribe and MuralNet state that, “In consultation with Tribal partners, we will be urging the FCC to adopt a year-long Tribal priority window with a rolling application approval process. In addition to providing more time for Tribal leadership to plan for obtaining spectrum, a longer window will allow for Tribal Nations without adequate broadband service to observe the impact and efficacy of networks established and owned by other Tribal communities. This will lead to more licenses granted to rural Tribal Nations, more networks being built and more under-connected people having access to all that broadband has to offer.” 

They add: “Spectrum auction winners should have the same buildout requirements and timelines as Tribal Nations who claim the spectrum during a Tribal priority window. Infrastructure can be deployed fast and some Tribal communities will have networks running within weeks of being granted a license. However, a lot of Tribal Nations new to wireless Internet networks and 2.5 GHz spectrum policies do not have that capacity just yet. It seems illogical that they are expected to deploy networks faster than multi-billion-dollar companies whose sole purpose is growing and maintaining telecommunications networks.” 

For assistance with the application to acquire spectrum or submitting a letter of intent, email [email protected] or [email protected] 

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