The Federal Communications Commission of the United States said that it has opened a priority window for federally recognized Native American tribes and Alaska Native Villages to apply for spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band, which is important for next-generation mobile services such as 5G. Through this priority window, the first of its kind, the tribes will be able to obtain 2.5 GHz spectrum free of charge before any commercial auction.
The Rural Tribal Priority Window opened on 3 February and will close on 3 August.
Any government or industry effort to increase mobile telecom service to underserved areas and populations is to be applauded, and this priority window to bring 5G spectrum to indigenous people in the U.S. is especially to be applauded because of the fact that Native peoples have long lagged when it comes to access to technology and connectivity. The problem goes well beyond simple geographic remoteness, although that is a component of the problem.
Helping to redress a historic wrong and reduce unfairness is a laudable goal, and the FCC’s plan to allow priority access to free spectrum is certainly public-spirited. The question is, though, to what extent the tribes will be able to utilize this spectrum and, ultimately, to maximize its usefulness to them. Very likely they do not have the infrastructure in place to do so and will need outside help. This presents an opportunity for mobile operators to enter into partnerships with the tribes to develop the infrastructure. On the other hand, if the tribes wish to remain independent and operate their spectrum themselves, they could work directly with technology developers and possibly entities such as MVNEs to create their own locally-based operators.