DOI Launches Initiatives to Modernize Electromagnetic Spectrum Access, Resources on Tribal Lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit today, the Departments of the Interior and Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to advance electromagnetic spectrum access opportunities and the deployment of broadband and other wireless services on tribal lands. Additionally, the Department of the Interior is establishing a new Office of Indigenous Communications and Technology (OICT) to assist Tribal Nations and tribal entities in managing and developing new technological and wireless services on tribal lands to advance true self-determination over digital resources.

“For far too long, Indigenous communities across America have lacked unencumbered access to electromagnetic spectrum over tribal lands, and a seat at the table for national policy development for their digital and technological assets. Native children are lacking essential tools to succeed, tribal members are losing out on accessing basic life-saving public safety services, and tribes are missing critical opportunities to grow their businesses,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “The Biden-Harris administration is committed to utilizing an all-of-government approach to correcting these wrongs, and finally giving tribal communities access to modern resources needed to modernize reservations and save lives.”

“Airwaves that deliver wireless signals are a key resource for expanding high-speed Internet service on tribal lands,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “Tapping into these airwaves will unlock economic, educational, and healthcare opportunities for tribal communities. Our regular consultations with the FCC and DOI will ensure the federal government is taking action to help tribes leverage this critical resource.”

“Connecting everyone, everywhere is at the heart of our mission,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “At the FCC, we value the special government-to-government relationship that we share with federally recognized American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages and our responsibilities with respect to Hawaiian Homelands. This partnership will help ensure that we are coordinating federal efforts to expand access to broadband services and wireless spectrum in these communities—communities that are some of the least connected in the United States. While the FCC has made progress through our tribal libraries program, Affordable Connectivity Program, and the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window, there is much more work to be done—and we are committed to this vital effort.”

The new MOU will provide a framework to explore new opportunities to develop wireless services and intergovernmental coordination, including spectrum access and data exchange over tribal lands, in support of tribal political and economic self-determination in the digital era.

OICT will focus on the facilitation of robust partnerships between tribes and the tech industry that will advance new tribal economic development initiatives, including electric vehicles, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) used for mapping, surveying and other services. Building upon the Interior Department’s unique role and fiduciary duty to manage tribal lands and resources, OICT will also review new electromagnetic spectrum leasing opportunities to advance tribal self-determination, help develop national tribal broadband policy guidance through on-going, consistent intergovernmental coordination, and provide technical assistance for the establishment of wireless, digital and technological projects on tribal lands and Native Hawaiian homelands.