The Federal Communications Commission is auctioning off wireless communication spectrum in 2020 and has established a roughly six-month priority window to provide federally recognized tribal entities an opportunity to apply for spectrum that covers their area. If successful in applying, a tribal entity would have the ability to set up its own broadband or cellphone network.

According to a public notice, the window for applying for the unassigned 2.5 gigahertz spectrum — in what was formerly designated as the Educational Broadband Service — will open on Feb. 3 and close Aug. 3. The notice states that the window will “provide federally recognized tribal entities with an opportunity to address the communications needs of their rural communities.”

Erin Fitzgerald, an attorney adviser with the FCC, was one of the guests for a panel titled “Building a Strong Alaska: Infrastructure” Oct. 18 at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks, where she briefly spoke about the rural tribal window.

“I’m here to talk about spectrum, which is the thing that makes your cellphone go. That’s the technical way to explain it,” she said. “We are opening a rural tribal window, which will allow tribes in Alaska Native villages to apply for that spectrum that covers their area, so that they can put together networks to serve their people. That spectrum would be free. Normally commercial companies bid for that spectrum and they pay for licenses.

“This is an opportunity that is available to tribal entities, tribal governments, also entities that are majority-owned and controlled by tribes and villages,” she said.

Fitzgerald noted that this wouldn’t mean setting up the network would be entirely free — equipment and other vital elements would need to be purchased. She added, however, that the free spectrum would be “a piece of the investment in building a local broadband network that, in this case, you don’t have to make.”

The FCC website states the 2.5 gigahertz band is “suitable for both mobile coverage and fixed point-to-point uses and is currently used to provide broadband service by legacy educational licensees and commercial providers that lease the spectrum.”

It could play a role in the deployment of broadband and other advanced communications services on tribal lands.

The FCC has begun an outreach program to ensure that all interested, eligible tribes have the information they need to be able to apply for this spectrum during this window. It has created a mapping tool, which allows tribal entities to assess their eligibility and to determine the amount of unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum that covers their lands. The mapping tool can be accessed here: bit.ly/2s7QwLd.

As part of its outreach efforts, the FCC will also host an informational workshop at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 14.

Further information on the rural priority window, including the specifics about the application filing process and the upcoming workshop, will be announced and posted to the rural tribal window website on or before Jan. 6, 2020. The website can be found here: bit.ly/370s119.

Any questions or requests for additional information regarding the priority period can be submitted via email to RuralTribalWindow@FCC.gov or via phone by calling Cecilia Sulhoff, with the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, at 202-418-0587.

Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.