August 02, 2022

Senator Warren and Representative Kahele Urge FCC to Advance Broadband and Spectrum Access for Native Communities

“Advancing Native spectrum access and ownership is the best way for the FCC to work toward fulfilling the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Kaiali'i Kahele (D-Hawai’i), along with Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Representatives Ed Case (D-Hawai’i), and Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.), sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel urging the FCC to consider more ways to advance Native communities’ access to and ownership of spectrum over their lands.

It was recently estimated that nearly a third of Tribal lands in the United States lacked internet access. Over 1.5 million people living on Tribal lands lack access to broadband services. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this disparity, limiting access to telemedicine, virtual and remote learning, and public safety programs, among other services.

“It’s vital that we ensure economic development and connectivity for Native communities, whose access to digital services already lags far behind the rest of the country,” said Senator Warren. “I’m calling for the FCC to take additional steps to advance Tribal spectrum access and ownership to enhance Tribal self-sufficiency and self-governance for Native communities.”

“In today’s digital era, equal opportunity is impossible without equal access to high-speed, reliable internet. Connectivity is key in ensuring that everyone can benefit from essential, modern day resources such as telehealth, online learning and remote job opportunities. Mahalo FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel for your commitment to increase broadband access on Tribal lands, and I look forward to continuing our work with this administration to ensure Native communities across our country are not left behind,” said Congressman Kaiali'i Kahele (Hawai'i-02).

“We ask that you continue to support the economic development of Tribal Nations and Native communities by working to advance their spectrum access and ownership,” said the lawmakers. “Advancing Native spectrum access and ownership is the best way for the FCC to work toward fulfilling the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.”

In the letter, the lawmakers recognize the Commission’s previous investments and commitments to advancing Tribal broadband and the Chairwoman herself has spoken to the necessity of bridging the digital divide that disadvantages many Tribal communities. Still, the lawmakers note that while “these steps are all important and commendable,” more can be done to facilitate economic development in these communities.

“The need is clear,” concluded the lawmakers. “So is the solution: enhance Tribal self-sufficiency and self-governance by facilitating Tribal spectrum access and ownership.”

Senator Warren has worked to protect and advance tribal sovereignty and to support Native communities’ increased digital connectivity:

  • Last Congress, Senator Warren and then-Representative Deb Haaland introduced the Deploying the Internet by Guaranteeing Indian Tribes Autonomy over Licensing (DIGITAL) Reservations Act, a landmark bill that would affirm Tribal Nations’ and Native Hawaiian organizations’ ownership of broadband spectrum over their lands, in order to deploy wireless internet services.
  • Senator Warren introduced the Extending Tribal Broadband Priority Act (S. 1365), to expand the FCC’s 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Window and allow Tribal Nations and Native Hawaiian organizations the time they need to apply for spectrum licenses for unassigned spectrum over their own lands. Senator Warren had also introduced this bill in the last Congress, when it cleared the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on a bipartisan basis as part of a Tribal broadband package.
  • In May 2020, Senator Warren joined colleagues calling on the FCC to extend its 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Window, and then did so again in August 2020. The next month, she joined a letter to the FCC calling on it to expand broadband connectivity to Native communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including by opening a new Tribal Priority Window.
  • In the last Congress, Senator Warren cosponsored the Bridging the Tribal Digital Divide Act, legislation to hasten the deployment of affordable broadband service on Tribal lands by coordinating and improving the effectiveness of federal resources.
  • Senator Warren voted for the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Public Law 116-260), which included nearly $1 billion to create the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Public Law 117-58), which provided another $2 billion to the program.