FCC opens window for tribes to expand broadband access throughout Indian Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Communications Commission on Monday opened a window that allows federally recognized tribes to apply for licenses that could help boost Internet service throughout Indian Country. 

The FCC action gives tribes in rural areas a “priority window” to apply for free access to the radio frequency spectrum available at 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz). The so-called mid-band spectrum licenses, which were historically reserved for educational institutions and are mostly unassigned across the western U.S., can be used by tribes to develop their own broadband network.  

A tribe can also obtain the license and lease its spectrum to third parties, such as Internet service providers, according to a news release by law firm Fredericks Peebles & Patterson LLP. 

“Radio spectrum is the lifeblood of all wireless networks, such as cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks, because it enables communication signals to travel across open distances without wired infrastructure,” Jeremy Patterson, attorney and partner at the law firm said in a statement. “This is an important opportunity for rural tribes west of the Mississippi River, as most of the 2.5 GHz band remains unassigned and unlicensed in these areas.”   

The FCC defines rural tribal lands as outside urbanized areas and with a population of less than 50,000 people. 

About a third of people on tribal lands don’t have access to high-speed Internet, according to the FCC.   

The window for tribal priority closes on Aug. 3.   

For more information about the license application process, read the FCC public notice.

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