The FCC is declining to comment on whether or not it will move the Aug. 3 priority window deadline for the 2.5 GHz auction, which is allowing tribal communities early and free access to spectrum.
The commission has already granted the Navajo Nation special temporary authority (STA) to access the 2.5 GHz during the pandemic, though it said that would not impact the auction.
Back in February, The FCC opened a first-of-its-kind six-month priority filing window for tribes and Alaska Native Villages. Those tribes and villages can get free spectrum before any commercial auction of the remaining spectrum for 5G wireless.
But that priority window, set before the pandemic changes the world, is scheduled to close Aug. 3.
During a Senate Communications Subcommittee hearing on spectrum policy, more than one legislator pointed out that applicants had asked for an extension, pointing to the pandemic and the difficulty of filing while at the same time dealing with the coronavirus impact on their communities.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) pointed out she and other senators back in May had asked the FCC to extend the window so they could "complete their applications for spectrum for wireless broadband and increased mobile coverage. She asked witness Michael Calabrese from New America's Open Technology Institute to weigh in on why extending the deadline was important.
He said that because of the crisis, tribal areas have not had the opportunity to complete the applications so would not have a fair opportunity to apply if the deadline were not moved. He said their coverage is "terrible" and they need a lower-cost way to build out wireless.
Following up on Klobuchar, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) read into the record a letter from the National Congress of American Indians, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and others seeking the extension. "With tribes dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, extending this window gives tribes time and opportunity to access unused spectrum to connect to the internet."
When the FCC granted the STA to the Navajos, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said: “Tribal communities are having to adjust to the challenges of the pandemic while already facing some of the greatest challenges caused by the digital divide that we see anywhere in the nation," so he clearly understands the challenges.
When asked whether the Aug. 3 deadline would be extended, a spokesperson for the chairman declined comment.