Extended deadline for tribes to apply for broadband licenses

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Tribes still have one month to request a band of wireless spectrum to establish or expand the Internet on their lands

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona –
The Federal Communications Commission is giving tribes an extra month to apply for a band of wireless spectrum that would help them establish or expand Internet access on their lands – much less time than the tribes had sought.

The tribes have been pushing to be the first to apply for licenses for medium band spectrum that is largely unallocated in the western United States and can be used for fixed or mobile internet service. Licenses were once reserved for educational institutions.

The tribal priority window opened in February and was scheduled to close on Monday. It has now been extended until September 2.

Tribes and tribal organizations had asked the FCC to extend the deadline to February, at least 90 days as tribes struggled to respond to the coronavirus. Many tribal government offices remain closed with employees working remotely.

“I don’t think that’s a huge demand,” said Loris Taylor, President and CEO of Native Public Media. “This is something the FCC has already done, they have granted extensions and made exceptions in other proceedings due to COVID-19.”

The FCC said the 30-day extension “strikes an appropriate balance” by giving tribes more time to apply but without delaying licenses to those who have already applied.

“In light of the streamlined application process as well as the wide outreach of Commission staff, a long extension of the deadline is unnecessary, as evidenced by the large number of applications we have already received,” said Ajit Pai, President of the FCC.

The FCC has estimated that about a third of people living on tribal lands do not have high-speed internet access, but others say the figure is twice as high.

“It’s about Indigenous children and distance learning. It’s about indigenous communities and telemedicine, “said Matthew Rantanen, director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association.” It’s about the health, safety and lives of tribal members. . “

Almost 230 tribes or tribal entities have submitted requests for the 2.5 GHz spectrum. Some have been granted temporary clearance, including the Sioux tribe of Lower Brule in South Dakota, the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region, and Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico.

In its request, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe said they are preparing for students to do more distance learning in the fall and plan to use the temporary license to connect around 40 homes to the network of the tribe.

The National Congress of American Indians was among those calling on the FCC to give tribes more time to apply due to the coronavirus pandemic, saying hundreds of people could miss the opportunity. The group on Friday urged the FCC to reconsider its decision.

“Significant additional time for tribal nations to file license applications during this window is necessary and critical,” the group said.

Spectrum left over after the Tribal Window closes will be auctioned off for commercial use. Telecommunications company T-Mobile said it does not oppose an extension of the tribal priority window to 90 days, but wants assurances that a public auction will take place year round. next.

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