Tribal Spectrum Licensing, Call for More ACP Funding, $32 Million for West Virginia Broadband

FCC seeking comments to facilitate better broadband connectivity in tribal communities.

Tribal Spectrum Licensing, Call for More ACP Funding, $32 Million for West Virginia Broadband
Photo of Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia in 2021 taken from his webiste

August 8, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comments on tribal nations and native Hawaiian access to wireless spectrum to facilitate better broadband connectivity in tribal communities.

According to the public notice published on Friday, the commission is seeking additional demographic data on applicants for spectrum licensing. This includes a potential addition of legal entity categories and questions on wireless licensing forms. It also invites public input on expanding data collection beyond government entities to include business and citizens, in a way that recognizes “both the sovereign status of Tribal Nations, as well as the broad diversity of Tribal Nations and the Native Hawaiian Community,” read the notice.

The FCC is also seeking feedback on tribal access to licensed spectrum through secondary market transactions, such as leasing arrangements and the sharing of licenses among carriers. This information would serve as the benchmark for the commission’s upcoming Enhanced Competition Incentive Program to spur growth in the secondary licensing market for tribal communities.

In addition to soliciting comments, the commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, in tandem with the Office of Native Affairs and Policy, will kick off an outreach program to further engage tribal and native Hawaiian communities. The forthcoming schedule and events would be made available in the near future, read the notice.

The announcement comes almost a year after Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Brian Schatz urged the FCC to consult more regularly with tribal leaders on the spectrum-licensing processes and ease regulatory burden on small tribes.

Tri-caucus chairs call for more ACP funding

Congressional tri-caucus chairs urged the Joe Biden administration to replenish funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, as experts forecast the program’s funds will be depleted by early 2024.

In a letter dated July 31, chairs of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus voiced concerns over the lapse of ACP funding, a benefit program that provides monthly internet discounts of $30 and $75 to low-income households.

The financial shortfall, if not addressed by Congress, would hurt communities of color and the “myriad systemic inequities” they are facing, read the letter.

The letter then cited a Pew survey that showed only 71 percent of Black households and 65 percent of Hispanic households have access to broadband internet, compared to the FCC’s data that 94 percent of households nationwide subscribe to such service. Lack of affordable high speed internet will put these communities further behind, claimed the letter.

“The Biden-Harris Administration has consistently led on internet access and affordability issues and has done more to close the digital divide than its predecessors,” it continued. “We urge you to support replenishing ACP funding to sustain and build on this important building block to help us overcome the digital divide.”

To date, more than 19 millions households have signed up for the ACP benefits, according to recent FCC’s data. Despite concerns that insufficient funding could impede ongoing broadband expansion and perpetuate the digital divide, Congress has not yet taken any measures to address this issue.

$32 Million for West Virginia broadband

West Virginia’s Governor Jim Justice announced the first round of funding approvals, totaling $32 million, to be distributed among ten recipients as part of the $100 million West Virginia Broadband Investment Plan.

The investment will extend broadband connectivity to more than 6,000 targeted locations through the deployment of 793 miles of new infrastructure. In addition to the current grants, over $16 million in matching funds will bring the total investment to more than $48 million, as outlined in a press release dated July 31.

“I am committed to ensuring that all West Virginians have access to the most advanced internet connectivity possible,” said Governor Justice. “This allocation of funding represents several major steps toward this goal.”

The funding is made available through two programs under the West Virginia Broadband Investment Plan – the Line Extension Advancement and Development and the Major Broadband Project Strategies programs. Projects under the MBPS program, in particular, will prioritize community involvement and use public-private partnerships to maximize investment.

The total fund includes $90 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and $10 million in state general revenue fund, as well as part of the ARPA Capital Projects Fund, which allots $136 million for broadband development in West Virginia, read the press release.

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