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Today, sixteen advocacy groups and indigenous organizations submitted a letter to Congress requesting an extension of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2.5 GHz Broadband Rural Tribal Priority Window.
“The unprecedented impact of the global crisis on this particular proceeding warrants a deadline extension,” wrote the advocacy groups.
The 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Window gives tribes an opportunity to acquire spectrum licenses for broadband internet before the licenses go to auction. The current deadline for applications is August 3, 2020; the groups are requesting that Congress intervene and require the FCC to issue an extension of the window through February 1, 2021.
The letter was directed to Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. and Rep. Greg Walden, respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, which held a full committee hearing on the same day, “Addressing the Urgent Needs of our Tribal Communities.”
At the hearing, President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation strongly recommended that Congress make it a priority to close the digital divide that puts tribal nations at an economic disadvantage.
President Fawn Sharp (Quinault) of the National Congress of American Indians said in her testimony, “Congress should urge the FCC to extend the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window.” NCAI is one of the organizations that signed onto the appeal to Congress.
The COVID-19 crisis has presented unforeseen challenges that have impacted tribes’ ability to complete and submit applications for spectrum licenses under the Tribal Priority Window. One reason it has been difficult for tribes to act quickly on this issue is because the pandemic has forced many tribal employees and decision makers to work from home and many reservation homes lack adequate broadband access, which slows decision making processes.
Another reason is that the application process is unique and requires specialized knowledge. Many of the workshops and outreach efforts that were scheduled to inform tribes about the opportunity and familiarize them with the FCC’s processes were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Finally, applications require accurate mapped data and files that are difficult or impossible to acquire while employees are incapacitated or forced to work from home. Simply put, tribes need more time to complete the application process.
The organizations write, “Extending the 2.5GHz Rural Tribal Window is one small way Congress and the FCC can fulfill their commitment to Tribes. Doing so is the first step to addressing the inequities of this underserved population—it will give Tribes an actual chance to secure broadband access for their communities.”
In a press release, Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge, which published the letter on behalf of the group, said, “COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need for everyone to have access to reliable and affordable broadband. It would be tragic if the FCC and Congress allowed a public health crisis to undermine the ability of tribes to seize this opportunity.”