We have previously issued several alerts regarding the ability of eligible tribal entities to apply for certain airwave licenses that can be used for wireless internet access and other services. Our alerts can be found here, here and here. The window for applying for this spectrum opens on Feb. 3, 2020, and closes on August 3, 2020. The FCC has now released procedures for applying.
The FCC urges potential applicants to familiarize themselves with the general rules governing operation in the 2.5 GHz band and “strongly encourages” applicants to conduct due diligence to determine whether they will be able to provide services using the spectrum. This is a critical step as the failure to deploy a network using the spectrum within four or five years will result in cancellation of the license. The FCC identified the following non-exclusive list of factors that applicants should consider: (1) determine how much spectrum is available in the areas in which they wish to provide service; (2) assess where transmission equipment could be sited and the process for acquiring and/or leasing such sites; (3) determine technical requirements, including infrastructure and other network equipment needs; (4) consider nearby wireless services that must be protected from interference; (5) assess system financing and partnership arrangements and system administration and management; and (6) consider network and backhaul needs.
Applications will only be accepted during the filing window and they must be filed electronically through the agency’s Universal Licensing System. The FCC includes some step-by-step filing instructions here. There is no filing fee but standard filing forms must be used. Applicants must file a separate application for each separate tribal area and there is no limit to the number of applications an eligible tribe or tribally owned entity may file.
The application must include necessary exhibits and information to demonstrate that it meets all four eligibility criteria: (1) the applicant is a federally recognized tribe or Alaska Native Village, or consortium of eligible tribes, or an entity owned and controlled by an eligible tribe; (2) the area for which the applicant seeks a license is an eligible tribal land; (3) the tribal land is rural (The FCC has a mapping tool to help identify eligible tribes and areas.); and (4) the applicant maintains a local presence for each tribal land that is the subject to the application. If for some reason a tribe cannot technically meet one of these requirements, it must request a waiver as part of the application. An applicant must also have a current FCC Form 602 Ownership Form on file when it files its application.
The FCC’s Wireless Bureau is available to provide individualized assistance.