Today, Public Knowledge joined 15 other public interest, rural, tribal, and consumer advocacy groups in a letter urging Congress to request the Federal Communications Commission extend the 2.5 GHz wireless broadband application deadline for American Indian tribes. Many tribes have been unable to apply for the agency’s free “Rural Tribal Priority Window” to offer wireless broadband service for their communities due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Public Knowledge contends that extending the program’s deadline is a simple way for the FCC to help tribes secure wireless broadband access when it’s more important than ever — because tribal communities deserve better.
The following is an excerpt from the letter:
“Despite the promise of this opportunity for tribal communities, Tribes have faced significant hurdles to finishing their applications on time due to the COVID-19 crisis: (1) the vast majority of application workshops were cancelled, as were other forms of in-person outreach; (2) surveys of tribal lands to confirm maps have been difficult to complete, and requests for waivers based on survey data are time consuming due to the impacts of COVID-19; (3) stay-at-home orders have delayed tribal decision making; and (4) an extension will not impact timely filers, nor the 2.5 GHz auction. All these obstacles are further aggravated by the lack of broadband access, basic telephone service, or reliable electric power on many tribal lands. The unprecedented impact of the global crisis on this particular proceeding warrants a deadline extension.”
The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:
“Tribal lands are among the least connected in America, one of many factors that severely inhibit their capacity for economic development while disempowering them in society daily. The FCC created this program explicitly to address this lack of connectivity by providing 5G spectrum to Native Americans on rural tribal lands. No one could have foreseen the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Tribes, and how it would make the already difficult task of filing FCC applications incredibly harder.
“Granting this extension is entirely within the power of Congress or the FCC. It would hurt no one, and would enormously benefit hundreds of rural Tribes who are doing their best to apply during the worst public health crisis in a century. 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.”