Public Knowledge Welcomes FCC Spectrum Action To Narrow Digital Divide

FCC moves to establish a new program to encourage spectrum leasing to small carriers, Tribal Nations, and other entities that service rural areas.

Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will establish an “Enhanced Competition Incentive Program (ECIP)” to help narrow the digital divide. The ECIP would encourage licensees to partition, disaggregate, or lease spectrum to small carriers, Tribal Nations, and other entities that service rural areas. 

Wireless licenses auctioned by the FCC can cover large geographic “license areas,” sometimes up to tens of thousands of square miles. The high cost of these licenses ensures they are virtually all acquired by national providers primarily interested in serving denser, more profitable cities and suburbs. Because of the high cost and low return on investment, these providers generally do not deploy on Tribal lands, and limit their deployment in rural communities to the minimum required by the FCC. Tribes and smaller rural carriers cannot access the spectrum held by these exclusive licenses in order to serve their own communities. Public Knowledge commends the FCC for taking a step that may help small carriers, Tribal Nations, and rural service providers access unused spectrum to further serve their communities.

The following can be attributed to Kathleen Burke, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“Large carriers often hoard spectrum access rights, a practice that prevents other entities from stepping in to provide essential communication services to the mostly Tribal and rural areas that large carriers won’t service. Unfortunately, spectrum access is essential when it comes to providing wireless communication services – there are no workaround alternatives. This is why Congress tasked the Commission with finding ways to encourage carriers to provide greater access to their unused spectrum in 2018.

“This Order could give Tribes and rural communities greater access to the spectrum they need to provide communications services in their areas. Ultimately, opening up such spectrum access depends on whether the carriers that hold the spectrum are willing to work with Tribes and rural communities to take advantage of the new opportunities created by this Order. If not, the FCC will need to take stronger measures to unlock spectrum lying fallow on Tribal lands and in rural areas.”

You may view Public Knowledge’s comments on the agency’s “Enhanced Competition Incentive Program” to learn more.

Members of the media may contact Communications Director Shiva Stella with inquiries, interview requests, or to join the Public Knowledge press list at or 405-249-9435.