FCC Provides Broadband Spectrum to Navajo Nation during COVID-19 Crisis

The Navajo Nation, which has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, received temporary access to the unassigned spectrum in the 2.5GHz band from the Federal Communications Commission. This 60-day access will provide wireless broadband service over the entire reservation and is part of the Navajo Nation’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Navajo Nation is located in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and has been hit harder than any other Native American tribe with 1,197 cases as of April 18. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez ordered everyone on the reservation to wear protective masks. “Some individuals think we’re using scare tactics or extreme measures, but we are losing lives here on the Navajo Nation, and I’m going to do everything I can to help save lives,” Nez told the Associated Press.

The FCC previously provided part of the unassigned 2.5GHz spectrum to the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico to aid in their access to the internet during the pandemic. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he has seen a digital divide on Tribal lands and considers this response a “creative solution” to keeping Tribal lands connected.

“I am pleased that we can provide this temporary spectrum access to the Navajo Nation,” said Pai in a press release. “Tribal communities are having to adjust to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic while already facing some of the greatest challenges caused by the digital divide that we see anywhere in the nation.” He said more access to broadband is needed as Tribal members need to rely on telemedicine and remote learning as well as working from home.

“This additional spectrum should help the leaders of the Navajo Nation meet the needs of its people during this challenging time. I wish all the Navajo people health and wellness, and I remain committed to helping them bridge the digital divide,” Ajit Pai said.

The FCC’s release said they are also continuing to accept applications from other Tribal entities for access to the unassigned 2.5GHz spectrum through August 3, 2020 when the Rural Tribal Priority Window closes. It says this emergency access will not affect later ability for tribes to acquire spectrum access.