The latest report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) could do more to expand broadband access on tribal lands. Additionally, the GAO has offered three recommendations to the FCC, where the agency agreed with.
Currently, there is a significant divergence between broadband access on tribal lands and elsewhere in the U.S. According to GAO’s 2018 predictions, 35 percent of American citizens residing on tribal lands do not have access to broadband services, contrasted to 8 percent of Americans overall. The report found that one of the key blockades to broadband access is access to spectrum licenses. Currently, tribal leaders can get spectrum licenses in one of two ways, either through an FCC spectrum auction or through secondary market transactions. However, GAO described that licensed spectrum is usually favored because it provides a better quality of service compared to unlicensed spectrum. Though the quality may be better, almost all of the tribal entities which GAO contacted said that they are accessing unlicensed spectrum to offer Internet service. In terms of roadblocks to obtaining licensed spectrum, the tribes mentioned high costs and, in the case of secondary market transactions, they cited a lack of information on who operates licenses over tribal lands. GAO further explained that because most spectrum allotted for commercial use has already been assigned, the secondary market is one of the very few avenues available to tribal entities that would like to access licensed spectrum.
With all of that in mind, GAO advised the FCC to enhance access to broadband spectrum for tribal lands. In their report, GAO recommended threes steps the FCC should take to improve broadband access on tribal lands. First, the FCC needs to gather reliable data on tribal access to spectrum. By doing so; the FCC could better conjecture tribal spectrum issues and use this information as it executes ongoing spectrum initiatives.
Second, the FCC requires to evaluate superfluous licensed spectrum over tribal lands. This would enable the FCC to foster a more robust secondary market and it could use that data to acquaint its oversight of the secondary market. And in the end, the GAO recommended the FCC should eliminate blockades that tribal areas are currently facing by making information available in a more accessible manner that would promote tribes’ ability to acquire or lease spectrum licenses over their lands from other providers.