On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened the Rural Tribal Priority Window, which is an application window that allows rural tribes to apply for an Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum license for free. This is the first time the FCC has opened an application window specifically for rural tribes.
Tribal nations experience some of the worst broadband access and adoption rates in the country. According to the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, just 67.9% of residents on tribal lands have access to broadband compared to 93.5% of all Americans. The numbers are even worse for rural tribal lands, where just 45.4% of residents have access. Even when broadband is available, adoption rates fall well below the national average. Just 38% of residents in these areas subscribe to 25/3 Mbps broadband when it is available.
One issue preventing rural tribal nations from gaining access is the lack of spectrum available on their lands. A November 2018 United States Government Accountability Office report titled FCC Should Undertake Efforts to Better Promote Tribal Access to Spectrum highlighted this problem.
Access to spectrum – specifically EBS spectrum – makes delivering broadband much more affordable. That is one of the reasons Voqal has been extremely supportive of the FCC creating this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for tribes to access spectrum over their lands. Because of the robust ecosystem of equipment available for EBS spectrum, the cost of deployment is quite low relative to other spectrum bands. As we have documented before, one extremely remote tribe was able to deploy a broadband network using EBS spectrum with as little as $10,000 worth of equipment. NPR’s All Things Considered recently reported on this topic.
According to the FCC’s 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Mapping Tool, there are 639 Tribal Lands with EBS spectrum available. The window is scheduled to run until August 3, 2020. Voqal applauds the FCC for taking this step and is hopeful rural tribal nations will take advantage of this unique opportunity.