Spectrum Sovereignty on Tribal Lands: Assessing the DIGITAL Reservations Act

Published on SSRN, August 3, 2022
Authored by: Darrah Blackwater (Independent), Ilia Murtazashvili (University of Pittsburgh – Graduate School of Public and International Affairs), and Martin B.H. Weiss (University of PIttsburgh – School of Computing and Information)

Abstract: The Federal Communications Commission currently has unlimited authority over governance of electromagnetic spectrum on sovereign tribal lands in the United States. This monocentric system, with spectrum governed exclusively by the FCC, essentially eliminates opportunities for tribal governments to develop innovative ways to manage spectrum to close the digital divide on Tribal lands, to choose how much of spectrum is available for commercial, public, or community use, and eliminates ability of tribes to fully control revenue from spectrum on tribal lands. The Deploying the Internet by Guaranteeing Indian Tribes Autonomy over Licensing (DIGITAL) Reservations Act envisions a new path for spectrum governance which affirms self-management and self-governance of spectrum on tribal lands. In this paper, we consider the extent to which the DIGITAL Reservations Act contrasts with current spectrum governance in the United States. We argue that the DIGITAL Reservations Act envisions a polycentric system of spectrum governance and that it is a workable system of spectrum governance that acknowledges tribal sovereignty over one of its most valuable assets.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4178671