Call to Action: ONAP and WTB Seek Comment on Tribal Nation and Native Hawaiian Access to Spectrum and Related Data

Sadie Vermillion

Policy & Research Analyst

Spectrum is an essential natural resource because it is finite and has economic and public use, purpose, and benefit. Similar to other natural resources such as water, timber, minerals, and precious metals, the use of radio frequencies (spectrum) has become integrated into everyday life.  Tribal access to spectrum is required to provide wireless internet and is critical to bridging the digital divide. Access to more spectrum would enable the use of better wireless technologies and provide Tribal communities with a critical asset. 

Submitting comments regarding Tribal access to spectrum is critical. Tribes must exercise their sovereign right to access and utilize this natural resource. The federal government, as trustee to Tribal Nations, must also understand and address the historical and present-day barriers that prevent Tribal access to spectrum use.

On August 4, 2023, the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy (ONAP) and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) released a Public Notice Seeking Public Comment (the Notice) on ways in which the Commission can improve its understanding of how and the extent to which Tribal Nations and the Native Hawaiian Community, as defined in the Notice, are able to access wireless spectrum.

The Notice states the following:

“Although Tribal Nations and the Native Hawaiian Community hold spectrum licenses in various wireless bands, the Commission’s current wireless licensing application forms do not collect information to identify Tribal or Native Hawaiian applicants. This leads to an incomplete picture of wireless spectrum access by Tribal Nations and Native Hawaiian Community.”

The Notice goes on to list more specific topics and questions sought to be addressed by Tribal stakeholders. These include:

  • Should there be an addition of legal entity categories or demographic questions to the wireless licensing forms to more readily identify Tribal or Native Hawaiian applicants seeking to obtain, or currently holding, spectrum licenses? 
    • Should the collection of this information be mandatory or optional?
    • If there are multiple categories and the information collection is mandatory, would that complicate the application processes and/or frustrate applicants? Would it lead to a more or less robust response and data set?
  • What are the appropriate categories, questions, and terminology that will recognize both the sovereign status of Tribal Nations, as well as the broad diversity of Tribal Nations and the Native Hawaiian Community?
    • Should there only be collection of identifying information from Tribal Nations or government entities, or should there also be solicitation of  responses from non-governmental Tribal entities, such as businesses, or individual Tribal citizens?  
    • If there is solicitation of responses from non-governmental Tribal entities, what criteria should be used to identify those entities?  
    • How should we best collect applicant and licensing information from the Native Hawaiian Community, which does not currently have a government-to-government relationship with the United States? 
  • To what extent have Tribal Nations and the Native Hawaiian Community been able to successfully access licensed spectrum through secondary market transactions in the recent past (for example, leasing arrangements and the partitioning or disaggregation of licenses held by carriers or other non-Tribal entities)? 
  • Are there ways in which the Commission can expand awareness among Tribal Nations and the Native Hawaiian Community about how they can access spectrum without applying for a license (for example, General Authorized Access Tier of the Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service, unlicensed use in White Spaces, and the 5 GHz band)? 

Comments to the Notice must be filed by November 30, 2023. You can submit an electronic filing by going to the Submit a Standard Filing portion of the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System. Comments may also be paper filings submitted via mail. 

Please see the downloadable files listed on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) webpage for the Notice to obtain more information.

For questions or concerns, please contact ONAP at