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Rural Tribal Priority Window Now Open; Advice from MuralNet - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 393
On February 3rd, 2020, the FCC opened the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window, a six month period in which federally recognized Tribes or Alaska Native Villages have the opportunity to apply for licenses to unassigned spectrum over their Tribal lands. This week on the podcast, we have two guests from MuralNet — CEO Mariel Triggs and Edyael Casaperalta, Legal Advisor and Policy Strategist. MuralNet, a nonprofit that focuses on helping indigenous people build their own networks, has been working to spread the word about the Rural Tribal Priority Window.
Historically, national Internet access companies have fallen short in bringing their services to people living on tribal lands. A few Tribes have been able to develop their own community networks, but others have found roadblocks when competing with large ISPs for spectrum or for funding. As a result, Tribal communities are some of the least connected in the U.S. Mariel and Edyael discuss how fixed wireless, using the 2.5 Ghz band spectrum is well suited to help solve this persistent problem. They share some of the challenges they’ve faced and offer some tips with deployment and in working to develop policy.
We learn more about the criteria that tribes need to meet in order to apply and how, even if they don’t plan on building their own network, owning access to the spectrum is, nevertheless, empowering. Tribes may not wish to operate a community network, but owning the airwaves above their land gives them some control over how those airwaves are used.
To learn more about the claiming the airwaves over Tribal Land, check out MuralNet’s website here. They're always willing to answer questions and to help with the process.
Legal Disclaimer: MuralNet employees and contractors are not attorneys. Services offered and statements from MuralNet in this podcast are not legal advice or opinion.
For more information from the FCC, including application information, maps, and any additional requirements, visit their cache of information here.
The Tribal Priority Window closes on August 3rd, 2020, at which time other entities will be able to apply for the licenses.
This show is 47 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Image of Cibecue, Fort Apache reservation settlement in Arizona by Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand [CC BY]
Edyael Casaperalta: I know that your work, Chris, is always about supporting communities that want to connect themselves on their own terms and I see the Tribal Priority Window as providing that opportunity for tribes.
Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 393 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. On February 3rd, 2020 the FCC opened the Rural Tribal Priority Window to allow rural tribes the opportunity to directly access unassigned spectrum over their tribal lands. This is a unique and empowering opportunity. On native lands, Internet access companies rarely deploy the necessary Internet access infrastructure. Our guests this week, Mariel Triggs and Edyael Casaperalta from MuralNet, have been helping to spread the word to tribal communities to make sure they know that the window will be open until August 3rd, 2020. In this conversation, we learn more about the history of 2.5 GHz spectrum over tribal lands and why the spectrum is a good solution for communities living there. We learn about leases and licenses for fixed wireless spectrum and find out more about who controls them. These are some of the factors that have negatively impacted the ability for tribes to have Internet access.
Lisa Gonzalez: Our guests also offer valuable information about the basic criteria that tribes need to meet to take advantage of this opportunity and some of the possible uses of the spectrum. Even if a tribal community isn't interested in building a community network, obtaining access to spectrum over their land will allow them to control the airwaves. Learn more about the Tribal Priority Window by going to fcc.gov and searching for tribal window. Now here's Christopher talking with Mariel Triggs and Edyael Casaperalta from MuralNet.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis. Today I'm talking to two guests that are so knowledgeable about the subject that we're going to be talking about, spectrum over tribal lands and I'm just going to jump right into introducing Mariel Triggs, the CEO of MuralNet. Welcome to the show.
Mariel Triggs: Oh, thank you. Glad to be here.
Christopher Mitchell: And a longtime friend Edyael Casaperalta who, I think we've known each other for 10 years. You're the legal advisor and policy strategist to MuralNet now.
Edyael Casaperalta: That's right. It's so great to talk to you Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'm just glad that you've escaped law school intact and you're able to once again support us with your prodigious output and thinking. So, but let me start and I think I'll direct this to Mariel first, but what is MuralNet?
Mariel Triggs: We're a nonprofit. We were started in 2017 as a group of volunteers out of Silicon Valley because we thought we figured out the answer to the rural digital divide on tribal lands. We put together essentially a tech stack that was open source, cheap equipment that was super reliable, and leveraged the infrastructure that was laid out by folks that had been working in this space forever, such as Matt Rantanen and Valerie Fast Horse of the Coeur d’Alene and Denae Wilson of the Nez Perce, who've built out fiber and microwave rings in that back haul. And we figured out a way to get access to this special spectrum called the Educational Broadband Service Spectrum that had been frozen since the 90s. This is an ideal spectrum because it's been forgotten. I can get into that more, but essentially we put together a kit. We worked with Northern Arizona University and the Havasupai Tribe, their youngest Councilwoman, Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss, And what we managed to do in half a day for $15,000 was help connect her community at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Christopher Mitchell: And that is something that I want to come back and actually we'll do an interview, hopefully with you and them, to talk about that in greater depth cause it's a great story.
Mariel Triggs: Oh, it is. And unfortunately the tech issue was fairly trivial. The real story came 2018 and 2019 and spearheaded by Councilwoman Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss, which was to tackle the policy issue in DC. And during those two years, we partnered with them to really try to change what was happening when it comes to the airwaves over tribal lands. We had some successes that I hope we get to talk more about.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, let me just quickly probe on the, you said you thought you had the solution and I'm curious if you have a short explanation for the humble sounding nature of that.
Mariel Triggs: Well, Silicon Valley, you know how we are. We develop apps and we think we've solved the world's problems. What was humbling about the situation once we had this software and hardware package that could be deployed for very little money and connect to people using fixed wireless, which was quite novel in 2017 but now it's pretty standard, was that even though we had all the equipment up, even though we knew the physics and the tech would work, we had to wait four months to be able to flip a switch and actually connect to people. We had to wait for those permits to be processed by the FCC to allow us to actually broadcast and that took a long time, especially for us. It ended up taking a year and a half to get the Havasupai tribes a permanent license for certain channels to be okayed by the FCC.
Mariel Triggs: So what we found is all the equipment can be there, once we got permission to broadcast, flipping the switch, we had to send CPEs, home units, down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I thought it would take two days. It took five. Guess what? Amazon Prime doesn't deliver down there. It's the last place in the US that they still deliver mail by mule train. Loved ordering that, I had to ask for extra packaging because of the bumps and it took an hour with an undergrad from NAU and the head of facilities, Armando Marshall at the Havasupai tribe tribal offices, to actually light up the network.
Mariel Triggs: So the humble there was where we were able to contribute back in 2017 the open source software that you can now download off of GitHub that normally would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The hardware package, that was easy to put together. That wasn't the issue. It was that last one. It was about that spectrum access and not even about having access to airwaves. There was no interference. No one else was using it for hundreds of miles around. But having the permission from the federal government to broadcast on those channels, that was the real issue.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, that's something that I guess a lot of my listeners I think will not be very surprised to hear, unfortunately. I think, as you were talking, it reminded me that I met you first through the Internet Society at the Indigenous Conductivity Summit recently where you were instrumental in working with local folks for them to build their own community wireless network in Waimanalo and so I just wanted to throw that out there. But I want to turn back to Edyael. You've long been a friend of community solutions and you've really been focused on rural issues in all the time that I've known you. And I'm curious if you can tell us why you think community wireless solutions in this way is such a good fit for Indian country.
Edyael Casaperalta: The wireless solution for Indian country is just one more option that tribes and indigenous peoples across the United States can harness to be able to close the digital divide in their communities. As you know, through our mentor work on rural broadband issues, there's still a big population in the United States that do not have access to Internet service and even telephone service. And in part it's because they live in more rural, less populated remote areas, where traditional carriers don't think there's a business case or there's the market really to sustain their operations there. And so these communities are left with having to figure out ways in which they provide Internet services to themselves. And there are many ways. There's community broadband, communities can engage in Fiber-to-the-Home and many technologies. But a lot of them are very costly. And so they have to figure out how can, with the limited resources that we have, find a solution to connect our community members.
Edyael Casaperalta: And what's really unique about the Tribal Priority Window and the 2.5 spectrum is that for the first time tribes will be able to access this critical and great chunk of the airwaves without having to bid at auction. And yes it's limited only to their tribal lands, but typically any entity can bid at auction for a spectrum license and to be able to use a chunk of that airwave. In those auctions, they may be competing with big carriers that can afford millions, that can afford to pay attorneys and lobbyists and bid millions of dollars and do fast deployments. And so when you're bidding against those type of entities, you can be very out of luck. So this is a really unique opportunity for tribes to use another tool to be able to close the divide in their communities, to think about wireless connectivity, to think about the airwaves over their lands, and to be able to control them so that they bring connectivity to their residents.
Christopher Mitchell: Let me make sure that we're all on the same page. The spectrum across the United States, how we use radios and things like that, is controlled by the Federal Communications Commission and it is a periodically licensed more recently through auctions and in the past there's been no recognition from the US federal government really that the sovereign areas that tribes have been forced into have any greater access to those spectrum. There hasn't been a recognition of any special rights. Right?
Edyael Casaperalta: That's correct. So far up until now tribes have been able to use the airwaves the same way that any commercial entity is, which is by bidding at an auction, as you mentioned.
Christopher Mitchell: Before we get into which part of the spectrum is available, what is just a brief description of what is a Tribal Priority Window?
Edyael Casaperalta: The Tribal Priority Window is a six-month period during which the Federal Communications Commission will accept applications from tribes to claim a spectrum license over their own lands in the 2.5 GHz band and each qualifying tribe has to prove four elements to be able to get this license and apply to this window. So those four elements is that, first the tribe has to be a federally-recognized tribe or an Alaskan native village or an entity that is more than 50% owned and controlled by a federally-recognized tribe or Alaskan native village. And this element I think really goes to the FCCs interest in observing the government to government relationship that it has by statute and by many policies with American Indian governments. So they are really wanting to ensure that the licenses end up controlled by tribal governments.
Edyael Casaperalta: The second thing that an applicant has to prove is that the land that they want a license over is rural tribal land. So rural means, in this scenario, that the population is less than 50,000 people over that land and that the land is considered to be tribal. And that's usually a category set by the Bureau of Indian affairs. And so there's the list that recognizes all tribal lands. And the third element is that a tribe or an applicant has to prove local prescience over that land and this one the FCC assumes, that if you own the land you have local presence over the land, but for example an entity has to be able to make an argument as to why they are prescient in that rural tribal land and the final element is that there has to be some amount of spectrum in the 2 GHz band available over the land, whether there's just one channel.
Edyael Casaperalta: The whole spectrum doesn't have to be open, but if it's just a small amount of spectrum open over that land, then you can submit an application. Really the FCC seems to be wanting to do a very, like, "If you fulfill these four requirements, we will process your application and you'll get the license awarded to the applicant."
Christopher Mitchell: That was very succinct and for people who would like to just get a refresher on that rather than rewinding, you can go to a MuralNet.org where those details are also laid out on the website. Now this window, we're recording this beforehand, but I think we are publishing this show the day after the window opens, so broadly from the beginning of February until whatever is six months after February.
Edyael Casaperalta: Right, the window opens February 3rd at 9:00 AM Eastern time and it closes August 3rd at 6:00 PM Eastern time and we mark the time zone because it will matter to the FCC.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. So there's still some more things to talk about with the Tribal Priority Window, but I want to quickly jump over to the spectrum angle. And so this is 2.5 Ghz, and Mariel, I'm curious if you can tell us a little bit about that and issues with who's on it currently and what properties the spectrum has that'll be useful?
Mariel Triggs: The physics of it is, it's probably mid band spectrum to about five Ghz. It has amazing balance between distance and throughput. Plus it can penetrate through leaves, it's not line of sight. I know a lot of people talk about CDRS as solving so many different issues, but it's not going to be the best rural solution by far because ends up being line of sight. So EBS is pretty special there. And policy-wise, because it's forgotten for so long, its power limitations are actually quite generous. While CDRS and a lot of the unlicensed spectrum is limited at one watt, EBS can screen at 40 watts. So you have a situation here where if you want your radius to talk to each other, not only is it talking at a frequency that carries well and can go far, it also is a frequency that can screen. As you get to the history of it, what happened with EBS is back in the 70s and 80s it was given away free for educational institutions.
Mariel Triggs: It had to be for educational uses, or at least 10% of its broadcasting had to be educational uses. It might've been just 5% if I can recall, and way back when it was basically broadcasting Mr. Rogers in rural areas. These schools would get licenses that were 35 miles of radius circles, so they were huge. About 50% of the US ended up being licensed and then they froze the licenses in the 90s, which means that for over half of the US, especially West of the Mississippi, you have a ton of unlicensed spectrum that is basically laying to waste. So with this natural resource, you have this spectrum, which is unique in that it's not renewable resource, it's not a onetime resource. Spectrum is basically, if you're not using it, it's being wasted. So what we have is a spectrum that has basically been going unused for such a long time, and with the advent of Internet and with the advent of fixed wireless communications, this is a great way to connect communities to the flow of information.
Christopher Mitchell: I suspect that there's broadly two categories, maybe even three. One is where no one has the rights to use it today. One may be where someone has the rights but is not using it. And then the third may be where they have the rights and they are using it. Are those kind of, does that make sense to segment it in that way?
Mariel Triggs: Oh no, you did it perfectly. So for the first one, I think that would be basically unlicensed spectrum and that spectrum is going to be available to tribal communities through the Tribal Priority Window. You should act upon that, or at least you should educate yourself on what that means and then decide whether or not you want to claim that spectrum. Because second usually happens when a tribal community within 35 miles of a metropolitan center, say Albuquerque, Santa Fe, whatnot, and what happens in those cases is there's a license over them and it's probably leased. 95% of the licenses that are out there are leased. And that lease is probably held by Sprint. About 71% of the licenses are held by Sprint, I'm sorry, of the leases are held by Sprint. So 71% of the leases are held by Sprint.
Christopher Mitchell: Just to interject in the middle, what's the difference between a lease and a license?
Edyael Casaperalta: When you get a license for spectrum to use a spectrum chunk, typically the license are for 10 years, and that allows you to control the use of that spectrum. It also gives you protection from interference. Somebody else cannot use the same spectrum chunk that you just got a license for. And if someone that maybe is broadcasting on the channel next to you, they have to make sure that they're not also interfering with you, so it gives you this protection to use explicitly and also from interference. Now a license, it's a really valuable asset to have because, as Mariel was explaining, the licenses in the 2.5 GHz band were used to be available only for educational institutions. So you have to have an educational purpose to be able to hold the license. But you could lease it to someone who didn't have to have an educational purpose.
Edyael Casaperalta: You could commercialize this license. That's what a lease is. You could allow somebody else to use a piece of the airwave that you got license to and that would allow you to retain use of it for yourself, but essentially it allows you to decide who and how someone controls that piece of the spectrum. Now I'm going to go back. The licenses are awarded for 10 years and then they are renewed for a period of 30 years and some of those requirements that you have to observe in order to maintain the license. But they can become a very, very valuable asset which is how a lot of schools have been using them since the 90s.
Christopher Mitchell: Great. Now Mariel, I'm sorry I interrupted you. You were explaining the second scenario which is presumably where Sprint is leasing it in some areas and they may have a lease for a large area but only are using a part of that geography, I'm guessing.
Mariel Triggs: Well, what ends up happening with these 35 mile, at least 35 mile, radius circles is you need a buildout requirement and the lessee often is the one who's putting up the infrastructure to meet the buildout requirement. I believe for EBS it's 30% coverage by population, so that means 30% of the population within that big circle has to have the ability to get signal enough to be able to carry adequate Internet. It's very vague. So what ends up happening is you put up a cell or two in the most populous areas, you cover 30% of the population pretty easily and you've met your build out requirements, but that means on those fringes, usually it's tribal lands that are on those fringes, the license has a build that has been met but they don't have coverage. So they're in a situation where they can't build and use the spectrum because it is protected and the buildout requirement has been met.
Edyael Casaperalta: And to be clear, I wanted to go back a little bit to the Tribal Priority Window. The spectrum that is available, it's only unlicensed as Mariel explained. If somebody already has a license, even if they're not using it, even if they are not provided Internet service or communication services to the community where the license is, they still have that license protection so their license will not be given away. It's only the stuff that is unlicensed.
Edyael Casaperalta: The kind of a license, if we kind of think of Airbnb as a model, no pun intended with the air, but when you have an Airbnb, essentially at some point you found a way to buy a home and you can choose to live in your home or you can invite guests over to your home and your home maybe has several rooms. With Airbnb now, you can put a room up for rent in your home. And so you get to decide how often somebody comes to your home or maybe you rent it. So it's not just Airbnb, maybe you rent, you enter into an agreement for more than a year to rent to a new roommate, but you still get the protection of having your home for you to live in and you can invite others and set up an agreement to pay you for leasing the room. So I thought maybe that would be a good way to think of licensed and leases.
Christopher Mitchell: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And it's worth noting that this is a sign for tribes that may be interested, they may be qualified, they may have spectrum that is available, they may not be sure that they want to build a network, but they should still take advantage of this so that they have that option and it's an asset that they can use in the future in the same way that these spectrum licenses have been used for almost a hundred years now.
Edyael Casaperalta: That's exactly right. And while there are requirements about building a network or providing service that have to be met at the two-year and five-year mark of having the license in order to keep the license, even tribes that already have Fiber-to-the-Home, for example, the Mohawk in upstate New York, if there's spectrum available over their lands, why not get it? Why not occupy it and be able to determine how to control it, to figure out ... You said as an asset, as a way to bring in maybe revenue at some point. It also gives you an advantage in negotiations with wireless carriers. Maybe somebody wants to use the airwaves and now you're the one that holds the license, so you get to determine how they use it or for how long or maybe you just want to make sure that that spectrum is reserved for your use only. We definitely encourage tribes to think of this not only for the immediate buildout and for immediate connectivity to their communities, but also for preserving their ability to control the airwaves. And that's just a very small but meaningful step in affirming sovereignty over the airwaves.
Christopher Mitchell: It's a wonderful opportunity that you just sketched out. I want to make sure that we cover other opportunities that this represents at this point. So, Edyael, let me ask you to continue, is there other opportunities that, would you like to present the opportunity in different ways?
Edyael Casaperalta: I think that. The big deal with this opportunity, the big vision is really to make sure that tribes get to determine the future of connectivity, the present and the future of connectivity, and communications over their own lands and for their communities. I know that your work, Chris, is always about supporting communities that want to connect themselves on their own terms and I see the Tribal Priority Window as providing that opportunity for tribes and providing the first step of hopefully many for the tribes to be able to take control of their communications, present and future. Sadly, one of the things that will happen with the Tribal Priority Window is that if a tribe that has unlicensed spectrum over their lands doesn't show up and claim that license for the unlicensed spectrum, the spectrum will be auctioned to the highest better.
Edyael Casaperalta: So once the window closes, in likely the fall of 2020, the FCC will hold an auction, and if the tribe didn't get that license, that spectrum will be auctioned. That, to me, means that the tribe would have left on the table an opportunity to control the airwaves over their land. What the opportunity also means is that for the first time in this scale, tribes can access this very valuable asset without having to fork hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions in an auction. And so there's very difficult barrier to entry for tribes to become their own Internet service providers or to even engage in a contract with somebody else, with another Internet provider, to provide them service, wireless service, as this barrier is now taken away. The FTC has said, "Okay, we're going to take away this barrier that has prevented indigenous peoples from setting up their own networks." So I think that's also really important, why this is such a big deal.
Edyael Casaperalta: And finally, I just can't stress enough how much hope this I think can offer to Indian country, to do communications on their own terms. That's something that a lot of communities don't get a chance to do. Often we are subject to large carriers that may not understand our needs, may not understand our aspirations in communications, and we are stuck with their understanding of what we need and why we need communications and with their prices and their potentially substandard service. But here's an opportunity for tribes to be in the driver's seat of all of that and provide telecommunication services, Internet connection, in a way that truly responds to the needs of indigenous youth, to the needs of teachers in their communities, that ambitions, the possibilities for telehealth service in their communities, and that supports indigenous businesses in reaching the global marketplace.
Christopher Mitchell: That's a vision I can fully get behind. And Mariel, I'm curious if there's anything that you'd like to add to this. One of the things I would note for listeners is that I think the next six months you're going to be spending probably more time outside of your home, crisscrossing the nation, working with all kinds of people on this and there must be some reason you find it so motivating.
Mariel Triggs: Yes, outreach is what MuralNet will be all about for the next six months. We really want to make sure that no one falls through the cracks, so we're coordinating with a lot of other like-minded institutions in order to make sure the word gets out through regional meetings with travel subsidized, basically analyzing who's not getting reached and sending out volunteers to those communities during the summer. So I want to echo the self-determination part of it. If you look at the current situation, oftentimes local ISPs or larger ISPs will get tribal bidding credits to serve these areas. And what I see happening is, if a community wants to build their own network, all of a sudden they're bidding for spectrum and they're facing the ISP who is now subsidized by the federal government. So it actually makes it harder for them.
Mariel Triggs: And what's neat about this situation with the 2.5 GHz spectrum, is it gives them one of the cards right away. And that allows them to determine what they're going to do with their network. And what I mean by cards is, when you're negotiating or when you're working to get your network and get yourself connected in a way that you want to get connected, I see five cards. One is the infrastructure. You need some sort of existing infrastructure or have infrastructure built, such as powers or whatnot. What's nice about this fixed wireless is you only have to get 20 to 35 feet off the ground in order to reach homes a substantial distance away. So the infrastructure access is huge. You need back haul, you need some way to get a connection to the Internet backbone.
Mariel Triggs: Although an interesting set aside is for meeting the dugout requirements of the Tribal Priority Window licenses, you need connection, but it doesn't actually have to be all the way to the Internet backbone. It could just be an intranet. So you need the back haul, you need the infrastructure, you need the people who are actually providing the service, and you need the spectrum, so the more cards you have there, the easier it is to negotiate to get the service that you want, either by building your own ISP or by building your own community network or some other sustainable model, or by partnering with local ISPs or major telecoms in order to provide service. I'd actually throw in there a fifth card, which is your story, using your story such as the nation of Hawaii in order to get service as well in the way that you want it.
Mariel Triggs: And what I mean by the way you want it, you want the network tailored to you. There's hundreds of tribes out there who have different visions of how they want to connect themselves to broadband. And what I see from outside providers, they usually go to a traditional ISP where it's per house or per business, but the fact is is a lot of these communities, you need a pretty strong connection between the local government. You'll probably want connections to your neighbors in some way. You have to have some sort of pipeline to the federal government in order for reporting of things like IHS and whatnot. And then maybe also the connection to the Internet. So it is different. And I want to point out that urban is going to be different than rural, which is going to be different than tribal. And that was made really, really clear last week at a Next Century Cities event by Councilwoman Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Let's linger there for just a second. You want to recapture exactly what her point was, to make sure people understand it?
Mariel Triggs: When you're making policy in DC and you're not conferring with the right folks to represent those different stakeholder groups, you're putting up new barriers to prevent them from connecting themselves. So often tribal will be grouped together and rural, but the needs are different. The stakeholders are different, the history is different. So if I got the quote right, "If you don't include tribal in the conversation, you're letting us fail." Now, I would actually put in, "You're making it way harder for us to succeed."
Mariel Triggs: These are barriers that are actually put into their way. The tribal bidding credits I would actually posit is a barrier for them to connect themselves to the often subsidizes the other companies that they're going to be bidding against in order to get things like spectrum. Her whole thing, as I understand it, is make tribal separate, educate yourself. And the FCC has a really rich resource in the Native Nations Task Force and the Office of Native American Affairs. The Office of ... help me out, Edyael. ONAP stands for?
Edyael Casaperalta: Office of Native Affairs and Policy.
Mariel Triggs: Thanks.
Christopher Mitchell: We'll be doing future shows talking with Geoffrey Blackwell about how that came to be and the role that it plays. So that's something that I look forward to learning more about and sharing with listeners.
Mariel Triggs: I was about to bring him up actually. So they have these rich resources that the FCC seems to refer to or use after they've created policy to say, "Does this work or does that not?" Instead, flip the script, and this is from Matt Rantanen, you should be conferring with them to design the processes and the policies rather than trying to get their okay afterwards. And we got to remember this is a sliver of spectrum and at NCAI, Geoff Blackwell and Matt Rantanen pointed out that with this sliver of spectrum we can set a precedent that then can be carried out for all spectrum auctions. Giving a Tribal Priority Window and having this be a success is huge for establishing what can happen in the future.
Christopher Mitchell: That brings up something that I wanted to make sure we got to, which is that when we were all together at the Indigenous Conductivity Summit from the Internet Society, there was a real concern that we were going to have a much shorter window and that the FCC was expecting very little interest from tribes in this. But since then a majority of commissioners saw the value and agreed to have a six-month window, which is much more time to make sure that we're able to take full advantage of it. And so I'm just curious if you want to just briefly discuss that, Edyael.
Edyael Casaperalta: When the Tribal Priority Window was first proposed in July of 2019, we learned through the various review processes that the FCC has to go through in order to finalize an order that will collect information from the public, that they were anticipating that maybe you only eight applicants would participate. And they had kind of consulted with about 20 consultants about this, and so they're thinking, "We expect around eight applicants and each will spent around 10 hours trying to figure out how to apply for this." And so based on that, I guess they thought we don't need that much time. We only need about three months. And MuralNet was front and center in advocacy, in making sure that the FCC understood that if they really truly wanted to observe the government to government relationship with tribes, that then they needed to see applicants as the government that they are.
Edyael Casaperalta: Every government has their own processes and their own protocol that they have to follow, and that three months was really no time. It was really no time to allow a government to come to the consensus it needed to reach. And now there are 573 federally-recognized tribes in the United States. That means that 573 governments needed to have at some point figured out that this was happening and get other processes in place to apply in three months. Luckily and with much of advocacy by MuralNet, the FTC extended that window and now we have a better six-month window which is important to have additional time and we have really seen the FCC take on the road and try to get the word out. The ONAP says that they have called every single tribe. We see the effort that they're putting in.
Edyael Casaperalta: We still have to see whether six months is the appropriate time for a sovereign government to be able to get up to speed and figure out exactly what they need to participate. But we do commend the efforts that the FCC has been making to ensure that this happens. And it's exciting to, as you point out, Mariel is mostly on the road and has been for many months already, trying to get the word out about this amazing opportunity and it's exciting to see the interest that is coming out, showing up from Indian country. Tribes really thinking, "Oh, we can be our own ISP or this is something that we can harness." And we're just trying to do our part to make sure that they know where to find the information and how to engage in this process.
Christopher Mitchell: Mariel, the last question is for you and I did give you a little bit of a warning that I want to ask you this, which is, I'm curious about the challenges that you have faced as, the little bit that I've seen of you in action, you are I would say super technical wiz from Silicon Valley, pretty fast talking, definitely engaging and you definitely have a knack for understanding when people are following you or not. So I don't want to pretend that you're oblivious to that. But you're going to people and, I mean, I've been in this for more than 10 years and I still struggle to keep all of these things straight in my head. You're talking to people who often haven't been thinking about this for very long. Have you had any challenges in terms of, or do you have any advice for other people who are going to be talking about this? What's happened as you've gone out to talk to people about this?
Mariel Triggs: A lot of confusion, but that might not be particular to this subject. I think I might just be confusing people in general when I try to communicate. Partnership, Denae Wilson of the Nez Perce, she gave me some great advice about partnership and working with folks. We're always cross-culturally communicating and there's going to be different levels of what I talk about and how I talk to them. Yesterday, I was talking to a bunch of IT people from tribal colleges and the way I approached that conversation is going to be very different when I'm talking to, say, an economic development board.
Mariel Triggs: And number one is, don't go in alone. Make sure you have a point person who can help translate. And I guess I did air quotes there, which doesn't work over the radio. Listen first and second listen and third listen. And then after you feel like you've had the story, try to re-explain what you heard and then they'll correct you. You build that trust, you build that relationship, come in with an earnest ear and be willing to change your mind. There's many different situations. There's a lot that we're not aware of. So as I've been traveling and trying to talk about this stuff, you've seen me, I get super excited if someone wants to talk about spectrum policy or anything of that sort, or, let's talk and compare about different types of equipment and what angles the spectrum should be at, all that kind of fun stuff.
Mariel Triggs: But when it comes to actually seeing and understanding as best I can about what information people need in order to make an informed decision about whether or not to pursue this spectrum, yeah, listen. Everything and I'm quoting Denae Wilson on this, everything is done in partnership. She's actually the one who gave us the advice to learn how to work with the FCC when the rules first came out. Worst case scenario is that the window would have been December and January and that was it. And at first I was all, "This is terrible."
Mariel Triggs: But the I listened to the FCC and what they were doing and what their thought process was and then I gave them the information that they needed. "Hey, in our experience, this is how long it took to establish the relationship such that we could actually do something fruitful. That was about 6 to 10 months." And through going back and forth about the different scenarios in our experiences and talking with the FCC, I think they came with a much, much better policy and you can see that in their later rulings or their later publications that they did walk some things back and they did fix some things that were oversights within the orders. And now I could be in Alaska, I could be in Montana, I can be in Albuquerque and I will run into the folks from the FCC, especially the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, doing outreach, trying to get the word out.
Christopher Mitchell: I'd like to just add something which is really agreeing with what you said, but one of the things that I had also is don't underestimate local enthusiasm because prior to the Waimanalo workshop, I fully expected people's eyes to be mostly glazed over and I didn't see that. And in large part it's because of the way you structured the workshop, to give them things to work with with their hands. But when people got the sense that they can understand this, they can build it, they can provision it, there was no difference between the enthusiasm of the older children versus the older people who may have been 70 years old. I was really heartened at how enthusiastic people were to learn about this, to be active in it, and that sort of thing. And I was really underestimating that level of interest.
Edyael Casaperalta: Well, it's funny, like that scene where Bumpy's working with his grandson in order to terminate the ethernet cable, that's what it's about. And that balance of Internet as infrastructure, he showed me his framework yesterday about what makes it a lasting infrastructure. And one of the things was confidence. And I got to credit my time as a teacher and my time at Stanford learning about this, but what builds confidence is working off of what people know. There's a lot of technical expertise in the room. If you think about the technical part of things, a lot of it's just plumbing. We talk about the flow of electricity, we talk about the flow of water. This is just a flow of information and if you get people's hands dirty and you break things and you realize you can fix them, then you're going to be able to own your network on a whole new level.
Christopher Mitchell: We've run long. But let me give Edyael a chance to get a last comment in.
Edyael Casaperalta: Just hearing both of you talk about this build in Hawaii that you were a part of is precisely what gives me so much hope and excitement about the Tribal Priority Window. It's that once tribes have the license in their hands and in their control, then they start, these questions about, "What can we do, what else can we do with this?" The start popping up. I just keep envisioning, maybe growing the workforce of engineers and coders and ISP business owners and really bringing all these possibilities that the Internet age promises everywhere where the Internet is present to the next generation and the current actually, the current and next generation of indigenous youth.
Edyael Casaperalta: So I keep thinking, imagine that this one license allows the tribe to think about how to use wireless technology to revitalize their language program and how to use their indigenous language to code, and I get so excited thinking about the benefits that the rest of the country and the global Indian or wireless ecosystem will get from having indigenous knowledge be part of our conversation about network communications and technology. And that to me is just so exciting.
Mariel Triggs: The rest of the world will be able to learn a lot from this. This 2.5 GHz, Tribal Priority Window will lead to a lot of network builds, a lot of different types of sustainable models informed by tribal expertise, and we are going to be able to grow beyond the few business models that we have out there about how to connect to people.
Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. It's a great place to end this episode. I do want to come back and I want to talk more for more technically minded people about MuralNet and what it does, what the stack is, and things like that, so we'll save that for the future. But thank you both for taking so much time this morning to talk about this.
Mariel Triggs: Thank you for having us.
Edyael Casaperalta: Yeah, thank you. This is so fun.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking about the current Tribal Priority Window open from February 3rd, 2020 until August 3rd, 2020. He was speaking with Mariel Triggs and Edyael Casaperalta from MuralNet. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at email@example.com with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter, the handle is @muninetworks.
Lisa Gonzalez: Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 393 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thank you for listening.