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Washington Tribes Call on FCC to Prioritize Native Needs In Consideration of Licenses Change

Gary Wilson

The Federal Communications Commission is considering a rule change for licenses normally reserved foreducation and public broadcasting. In Washington state, theConfederated Tribes of the Colville are calling on the agency to prioritize tribal reservations for improved communication.

The licenses -- known as EBS, or Education Broadband Spectrum -- have been reserved for education and public broadcasting since the 1960’s. In the 1980’s, the FCC allowed licensees to lease out their spectrum. This spring, the FCC proposed a rule change that could expand license eligibility to tribes.

“It is a safety and health aspect on our reservation,” said Rodney Cawston, chairman of the Colville Tribes. “We have so many needs and unmet needs, because all of our communities are rural.”

Connectivity on Washington’s largest Native American reservation is pretty spotty.

“We’re getting a lot more visitation, especially in Lake Roosevelt, Banks Lake [near Grand Coulee Dam] and other places that are highly visited for recreational purposes, for fishing or camping,” Cawston said.

And with that comes an increase in need for emergency response and wildfire management.

The FCC is considering multiple options, including auctioning the licenses. Cawston says many tribes don’t have the financial resources to outbid large telecommunication companies that might buy them.

A public comment period closes in early September.