FCC Grants First Licenses in Rural Tribal Priority Window

On Friday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it has issued its first set of spectrum licenses in its “first-of-its kind Rural Tribal Priority Window to Tribal entities across the country” after its Wireless Telecommunications Bureau granted 154 applications to use the 2.5 GHz band to provide broadband and other wireless services, such as 5G to rural Tribal communities, in an effort to close the so-called digital divide.

The FCC originally created the priority window in February for federally recognized tribes or Alaska Natives to apply for licenses to bring internet and broadband access to their territory. The FCC previously stated that the Tribes would be the first to license the 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum. The priority window was set to close in early August, but was extended for a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FCC noted that these licenses “provide for exclusive use of up to 117.5 megahertz of 2.5 GHz band spectrum that can be used by Tribes to connect their communities.” The FCC stated that during the priority window, it received 400 applications to obtain licenses for the unassigned 2.5GHz band spectrum and that it continues to review and process the filed applications.

“This is a major step forward in our efforts to close the digital divide on Tribal lands,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “Few communities face the digital connectivity challenges faced by rural Tribes. By prioritizing Tribal access to this mid-band spectrum, we are ensuring that Tribes can quickly access spectrum to connect their schools, homes, hospitals, and businesses. Having visited many of these communities and met with Tribal leaders, I have seen first-hand the connectivity difficulties facing Native Nations. I am exceedingly pleased that—less than a year after we announced the timeline for the Rural Tribal Priority Window—we are now distributing 2.5 GHz band licenses to help Tribal communities bridge the digital divide.”