After Years of Working to Expand Tribal Broadband, Tester Announces FCC Approval of Montana Tribes’ Spectrum Licenses

All seven Montana Tribes that applied for licenses were approved

Following years of efforts to provide Montana Tribal communities with more opportunities to develop reliable broadband infrastructure, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today announced that seven Montana Tribes have received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for spectrum licenses to use the 2.5 GHz band to bring high speed broadband services to their communities.

“Between distanced learning, telehealth, and working from home, the coronavirus pandemic has made access to reliable, high-speed broadband more critical than ever before, especially in Indian Country,” said Tester. “For years, I’ve been pushing the FCC to work with Montana Tribes and grant them the logical next step in their push for digital sovereignty—ownership over their own spectrum. That’s why I’m proud to announce that the FCC approved applications from every Montana Tribe that applied for spectrum ownership, which will increase connectivity across our state’s Tribal communities and increase access to critical health and education services.”

The spectrum licenses were issued through the FCC’s Rural Tribal Priority Window to the Blackfeet Nation, Crow Tribe, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Fort Belknap Indian Community, and Northern Cheyenne Tribe. These licenses provide for exclusive use of up to 117.5 megahertz of 2.5 GHz band spectrum that can be used by Tribes to connect their communities. In September, Senator Tester wrote FCC Chairman Ajit Pai requesting an extension to the 2.5 GHz Tribal Priority Program Window so that more Tribes could apply for spectrum licenses.

Additionally, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) have announced plans to use funding secured by Tester in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to build the infrastructure necessary to turn the spectrum into a usable broadband network.

Tester has worked closely with Montana Tribes to close the digital divide in Indian Country, particularly during the coronavirus crisis. Earlier this year he urged Senate Leadership to extend the Tribal CRF deadline from December 2020 to December 2022 so Tribes could have more time to fully utilize funding for critical projects like building out broadband infrastructure. Last month, he pushed Indian Health Service Director Weahkee to improve Tribal behavioral health by boosting telehealth services and his Broadband DATA Act, which works to make broadband mapping more accurate in rural areas, was recently signed into law.