U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith & Representative Angie Craig Help Introduce Legislation to Expand Tribal

WASHINGTON, D.C. [10/16/20]—U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Congresswoman Angie Craig (MN-2) recently helped introduce bicameral legislation to help Tribes expand broadband in their communities. The Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act of 2020—led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.)will extend the deadline for Tribes to apply for spectrum licenses for unassigned spectrum over their own land.

For far too long, Tribes haven’t been able to access spectrum licenses to deploy broadband and telephone networks over their land. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has only exacerbated the effects of the long-standing digital divide. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provided Tribes with an opportunity to apply for the licenses. However the window to apply expired in September, before many were able to apply—in some cases due to COVID-19. The FCC declined to extend the deadline any further, despite requests made by Tribal Nations, Native Hawaiian organizations, telecommunications groups, and bipartisan Senate and House lawmakers. 

“Access to high-speed internet is more important now than ever to keep families connected to school, work, health care and loved ones,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “Tribal communities have been among the hardest hit during the coronavirus pandemic, and this crisis has exacerbated the deep digital divide. This legislation is a critical step toward ensuring that our tribal communities have the necessary time to get connected. The Rural Tribal Priority Window must be extended.”

“We need to expand broadband in Tribal communities because it’s the infrastructure of the 21st century,” said Sen. Smith, a member the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs “During the pandemic it’s especially important for telehealth and distance learning. But unfortunately COVID-19 has not been the great equalizer, and has only contributed to the digital divide. The FCC’s extension of just 30 days to apply for was not enough time for Tribes to apply for unassigned spectrum licenses over their land. The Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act of 2020 is a step forward and one of the many things we must do to help more Tribal communities access affordable, reliable internet service.” 

“I am proud to join with Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith as well as Representative Deb Haaland to ensure Tribal lands aren’t left behind in the growing digital divide, especially amidst the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indian Country. We must ensure broadband is accessible for all,” said Rep. Craig.

The Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act of 2020 would do the following:

  • Establish a new 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window that lasts at least 180 days;
  • Require that the FCC open this new window no later than 30 days after the bill is enacted; and
  • Create additional time for Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to apply for unassigned spectrum licenses over Tribal lands to deploy internet services 

The bill has broad support, including from the National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients; New America’s Open Technology Institute; Public Knowledge; Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition; National Hispanic Media Coalition; Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe; Access Now; National Indian Education Association (NIEA); Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA); Center for Rural Strategies; USET Sovereignty Protection Fund; National Congress of American Indians; Pueblo of Jemez; AMERIND; AMERIND Critical Infrastructure; and Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association.

You can access a copy of the Senate legislation here and a summary of it here.