Haaland, Heinrich Call Out FCC for Shortchanging Tribes on Tribal Broadband Application Deadline

Bicameral Letter cites COVID-19 Pandemic Challenges, Inconsistencies in FCC policies between Tribal and non-Tribal application extensions for broadband internet spectrum access

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) led a bicameral group of lawmakers calling out the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for shortchanging Tribes on the Tribal broadband application deadline. In a letter to the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the lawmakers cite challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and call for a full 180-day extension from the original August 3, 2020, 2.5 GHz Tribal priority filing window deadline, instead of the FCC’s 30-day extension that was announced one working day before the deadline expiration.

“Denying an extension for native communities to claim spectrum over their lands during this unprecedented pandemic is unconscionable,” the lawmakers wrote. “Tribes continue to encounter significant regulatory barriers that excluded them, as this order does, from the ability to effectively deploy wireless services.

The lawmakers continued, “We are deeply troubled with the Commission’s refusal to implement a 180-day Window extension, which lacks consistency with the agency’s recent decisions to delay Auctions 105 and 106 to allow all parties adequate time to prepare and participate during this pandemic.”

Lack of broadband internet infrastructure has created a barrier for Tribes to combat the COVID-19 pandemic limiting access to telehealth, virtual learning, and unemployment benefits and other economic relief. The FCC created additional barriers for Tribes to access spectrum by implementing severely shortened deadlines, contrary to other extensions for spectrum applications on non-Tribal lands. Since the beginning of April, the FCC received numerous requests from bipartisan members Congress, the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to extend the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window for application by no less than 180 days from the August 3 deadline. 

In Senate, the letter was signed by Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazzie K. Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Angus S. King, Jr. (I-Maine), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

In the House, the letter was also signed by U.S. Representatives Tom Cole (D-Okla.) Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Suzan K. DelBene (D-Wash.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Ed Case (D-Hawai’i), Don Young (R-Alaska), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), and Sharice L. Davids (D-Kansas).

Full bicameral letter is available here