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FCC Strengthens Tribal Nations Services

WASHINGTON  – The FCC acted today on several regulatory items to strengthen and expand communications services to Native Nations and their communities.  The Commission held a Native Nations Day as part of its open meeting with a renewed focus on initiatives that will help expand access to vital communications, including broadband, wireless and radio services in these communities across the United States.  The meeting included public presentations from several Native Nation leaders, and afternoon nation-to-nation consultation sessions.


FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “Technology touches every fabric of our society and all Americans should have access to these essential services. Our actions will further empower Native Nations to access and use the latest technologies to grow their businesses, increase their access to quality health care and education, reach 9-1-1 during emergencies, and receive public alerts and warnings.”


“We recognize that action is needed to strengthen and expand broadband and communications services in Native communities,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, Chief of the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy.  “The Commission’s actions will help cultivate partnerships among Native Nations, federal agencies, and broadband and communications providers to deploy these vital services in Native communities. This is a top priority for the Commission.”


The items adopted by the Commission today include:


·         A Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on improving communications services for Native Nations that seeks comment on a number of issues, including greater broadband deployment, the need for a uniform definition of Tribal lands to be used agency-wide in rulemakings, and the importance of strengthening the FCC’s nation-to-nation consultation process with Native Nations.

·         A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on ways to expand the efficient use of spectrum over Tribal lands so as to improve access to mobile wireless communications, which will provide consumers with more choices on how they communicate, share information and get their news.

·         A Second Report and Order, First Order on Reconsideration, and a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that will help expand opportunities for Tribal entities to provide broadcast radio services to Native communities.


Action by the Commission March 3, 2011, by NOI (FCC No. 11-30, CG Docket No. 11-41); NPRM (FCC No. 11-29; WT Docket No.11-40); and Second Report and Order, First Order on Reconsideration and FNPRM (FCC No. 11-28, MB Docket No. 09-52). Chairman Genachowski, Commissioners Copps, McDowell, Clyburn and Baker.  Separate statements issued by Chairman Genachowski, Commissioners Copps, McDowell, Clyburn and Baker.





Improving Communications Services for Native Nations NOI

The Native Nations NOI seeks comment on a wide range of issues intended to address the 68 percent telephone penetration rate and the less than 10 percent broadband penetration rate on Tribal lands nationwide.  These rates lag far behind the country as a whole.  The NOI also seeks information on Hawaiian Home Lands.  The NOI explores:


·         A Native Nations Priority for a wider array of communications services.

·         A new Native Nations Broadband Fund -- a National Broadband Plan recommendation -- to support communications deployment-related priorities and needs in Native Nations.

·         Sustainable Native Nations deployment models and whether there are specific characteristics and needs within Native Nations that would reveal potential best practices and/or successful techniques for broadband adoption and utilization, as detailed in the National Broadband Plan.

·         An agency-wide, uniform definition of Tribal lands, inclusive of the many different types of lands of Native Nations and Hawaiian Home Lands.

·         The Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) designation process on Tribal lands for obtaining universal service support and the related consultative process with Native Nations.

·         Specific broadband-based opportunities to address the public safety and interoperability challenges on Tribal lands, such as the broad lack of 911 and E-911 services. 

·         How to increase efficiencies in the Commission’s processes and best practices for cultural preservation and the protection of Native sacred sites in communications tower reviews pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. 

·         Obstacles and specific cost, equipment, and market entry issues related to satellite-based communications services for Native Nations.

·         Needs and challenges faced by persons with disabilities on Tribal lands and ways in which to include Native persons with disabilities in all matters critical to providing access to broadband and other communications services on Tribal lands.

·         Ways to create effective government-to-government consultation between the Commission and Native Nations, specifically examining the ongoing dialogue needed to contribute to the growth of the work between Native Nations and the Commission.


Native Nations Wireless Spectrum NPRM

The Commission also adopted an NPRM that seeks public comment on proposals that would promote greater use of spectrum over Tribal lands.  The NPRM seeks comment on:


  • A proposal to expand the current broadcast Tribal Priority to create opportunities for access to wireless radio services licenses not yet assigned.

  • A Native Nations originated proposal to create a secondary market negotiation process under which Tribes could work with incumbent wireless licensees to bargain in good faith for access to spectrum over unserved or underserved Tribal lands.

·         A Tribal proposal to employ an innovative process to utilize spectrum lying fallow under which either the licensee or the Native Nation could build out facilities to provide service. 

·         A proposal to provide incentives for licensees to deploy service to Tribal lands by enabling them to use that deployment to help satisfy the construction requirements for licenses.

·         A proposal to improve the effectiveness of the Tribal lands bidding credit program, for example, by extending the current 3-year construction deadline and the current 180-day deadline to obtain necessary Native Nation government certification.




Tribal and Rural Radio Orders and FNPRM

The Commission adopted an Order that enhances opportunities for Tribal entities to provide broadcast radio service to Native communities, and modifies certain procedures for the allotment of broadcast radio channels in order to ensure a fair distribution of radio licenses to rural areas and smaller communities as well as urban areas.  Last year, the Commission adopted a Tribal Priority that gave precedence to federally recognized American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages seeking to initiate needed radio service covering reservations and other Tribal lands.  While there are over 565 Native Nations, many do not possess Tribal lands.  Because the Tribal Priority currently requires coverage of Tribal lands, Native Nations without these lands cannot qualify for the priority.  Today’s order encourages those Native Nations to seek waivers of the Tribal lands coverage provisions of the Tribal Priority. Specifically, the Commission today: 


  • Adopted a policy for waiving certain requirements in the Tribal Priority in order to allow non-landed Tribes to take advantage of the Tribal Priority to provide radio broadcast services to Native communities.

  • Adopted an alternative coverage standard to allow Tribes with small or irregularly shaped lands to take advantage of the Tribal Priority to provide radio broadcast service to their Native communities.

  • Modified its procedures for determining which communities should receive priority in the award of new or relocated broadcast radio service.  These modifications are designed to ensure a fair distribution of radio service to small, less well-served communities and rural areas as well as urbanized areas.

  • Seeks comment on whether the Commission should require, as a threshold qualification to apply for a commercial FM channel allotted pursuant to the Tribal Priority, that an applicant qualify for the Tribal Priority for that channel, as well as seeking further comment on the Tribal Bidding Credit. 









Re:       Policies to Promote Rural Radio Service and to Streamline Allotment and Assignment Procedures (MB Docket No.09-52); Improving Communications Services for Native Nations by Promoting Greater Utilization of Spectrum over Tribal Lands (WT Docket No. 11-40); Improving Communications Services for Native Nations (CG Docket No. 11-41)


As we developed the National Broadband Plan last year, we asked Americans to share with us their concerns if broadband wasn’t available where they lived. And a woman named Sara from White Swan, Washington wrote us back. She told us:


With [b]roadband made available here in the rural areas of the Yakama Indian Reservation it would help us out a[]lot. My [s]ister and I are disabled and do not drive much. . . . Faster internet would help with education needs in our home. . . .


The phone co[mpany] keeps telling us [“]soon[”] for broadband[. W]e have seen them upgrade the lines right in front of our home, but [are] still waiting for some type of upgrades to come in to the substation to allow people further out access to broadband.


Our job here at the Commission is to help turn “soon” into “today.” Because communications services like broadband, wireless communications and radio aren’t just valuable as means to deliver entertainment and diversions. They are vital platforms for community-building, cultural preservation, and the promotion of public health, education and economic opportunity in Native Nations.


Native Nations’ unique circumstances vary widely – from reservations along the Eastern Seaboard, to Alaska Villages, to the Home Lands of Native Hawaiians – but we also know that many of you share similar visions for how broadband can improve the daily lives of Native Americans. Today’s items are about ways to help the leaders of Native Nations achieve those visions for their own communities.


Our first item will help Native Nations preserve their culture, language, and community values by making it easier to deploy rural radio service. This will particularly help Native Nations with small or irregularly shaped lands and non-landed Native Nations provide their citizens with programming that meets their needs and interests.


Our second item, the Spectrum over Tribal Lands NPRM, will create new opportunities for Native Nations to gain access to spectrum and create new incentives for licensees to deploy wireless services on Tribal Lands. We know that there have been lives lost in Native America because of the lack of basic communications services. We know that in the cold of a recent winter, when a car broke down on a reservation in the North Plains and a signal was not available, two young Indian men froze to death. We know that not too long ago in Arizona Indian Country, when a father and family man had a heart attack, his family had too far to travel just to reach a telephone. When emergency services finally arrived, it was too late.


But we also know that wireless availability can help bridge these gaps and even save lives. Wireless can make it easier to manage chronic diseases that plague places like Indian Country in Southern Arizona, where over one-third of American Indians over 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes. And so I am hopeful that this item will not just help more people in Native Nations obtain access to wireless, but also in some small way help communities tackle the public health challenges they face today.


And our third item, a Notice of Inquiry on Improving Communications Services for Native Nations, will lay the groundwork for policies that can help Native Nations build economic and educational opportunity for their members on their own sovereign lands.

I’ve said on many occasions that broadband is indispensable infrastructure for economic growth and job creation. And nowhere is that need more acutely felt than on Tribal lands. The lack of robust broadband services contributes to the challenges each of you face in building strong economies with diverse businesses and development projects. So we seek comment on the best ways to support sustainable broadband deployment, adoption, and digital literacy training on Tribal lands.


Among other important questions, we also ask about opportunities to use communications services to help Native Nations address public safety challenges on Tribal lands, including the broad lack of 911 and E-911 services, and the needs of persons with disabilities. We consider how barriers to entry might be preventing the deployment of satellite services in the most remote parts of Native Nations. And we also begin a new inquiry into the status of Hawaiian Home Lands.


In all these efforts, we look forward to working directly with you and finding the right answers to complex problems, to ensure that our actions are wisely taken and lead to effective solutions in your communities. Because as I said to many of you a year ago at the same NCAI winter conference that many of you have just attended, an important and unique trust relationship exists between the Commission and Native Nations. And that trust relationship has borne fruit today. Several of the items we adopt today grow largely out of ideas and proposals advocated by the Native community, and begin to break down barriers for Native Nations and their governmental entities to enter the communications field themselves. These actions recognize the important role that Native Nations play in planning and delivering services and the genuine potential of Tribal or Native-centric approaches to developing successful service models.


We are committed to honoring your sovereignty and self-determination, and strengthening our nation-to-nation relationships. In that spirit, later today, the Office of Native Affairs and Policy and our Bureaus will be hosting a separate session to engage in a dialogue and listening session with our guests from Native Nations on these items. And because we place a high value on your input and consultative guidance, I am pleased to announce today another action to help us work better together: the establishment of an FCC-Native Nations Broadband Task Force, as recommended by the National Broadband Plan, comprised of leaders from across the Native Nations and senior staff from across the Commission. This Task Force, co-chaired by Geoff Blackwell and a co-chair elected from among the 19 Native Nations representatives on the Task Force, will be a permanent mechanism for this Commission and sovereign Native Nations to work together on a positive policy agenda for communications in Native America.


Thank you again to our honorable guests for coming to the Commission today. Like my colleagues, I look forward to coming to your Nations in person soon, and hope that you will find our afternoon discussions informative and productive.





Re:       Policies to Promote Rural Radio Service and to Streamline Allotment and Assignment Procedures (MB Docket No.09-52); Improving Communications Services for Native Nations by Promoting Greater Utilization of Spectrum over Tribal Lands (WT Docket No. 11-40); Improving Communications Services for Native Nations (CG Docket No. 11-41)


Honorable Tribal Leaders, thank you for joining us here at the Federal Communications Commission.  This past November, I had the privilege to talk with many of you at the Annual Conference of the National Congress of American Indians in Albuquerque.  I brought with me to that meeting Chairman Genachowski’s pledge that we would hold this meeting—a Tribal Issues Commission Meeting to focus on the telecommunications and media issues that matter most to Indian Country.  It has been a long time in coming, but today we are now moving seriously toward a more comprehensive, consultative and holistic approach to identifying and removing barriers to the deployment and adoption of services on and near Tribal lands.


Providing every person in this country with Twenty-first century communications is the great infrastructure challenge of our time.  We cannot afford to leave any American behind.  That must certainly include the original Americans—Native Americans—so that they, too, can reap the benefits of these enabling communications technologies.  On my visits to Indian Country, I have seen first-hand how much harm the lack of telecommunications infrastructure is inflicting on the people living on and near Tribal lands, Alaska Native Villagesand Hawaiian Home Lands.  In so many places where Native Americans live, poverty endures, unemployment is at levels no society should tolerate, education languishes, and even basic public safety falls far short of what people have a right to expect.  Modern telecommunications and ubiquitous media are strangers in much of Indian Country.  Even plain old telephone service is at shockingly low levels of penetration—below seventy percent of Native American households, and in some areas far less than that.  And we don’t even begin to have reliable data on the status of Internet subscribership on Tribal lands.  Anecdotally, we know that broadband access on Tribal lands is minimal, and certainly lower than ten percent.  It’s a national disgrace—and it’s hurting us all.  While I have seen some marked improvements in some places in Indian Country over the last decade, so much more cries out to be done.  There’s an old saying:  Access denied is opportunity denied.  Until Indian Country is connected to a Twenty-first century broadband telecommunications grid, opportunity will pass quicker than a meteor over Indian Country.  And the people who live there will only fall farther behind the rest of the country and the rest of the world.


When we created the Office of Native Affairs and Policy last August, I was encouraged that we were on the path to meaningful progress on these challenges.  And, I was even more encouraged when my old friend, Geoff Blackwell, was selected to head that office.  What a gift he is to this Commission!  And we have beefed up, by orders of magnitude, the FCC’s resources dedicated to building a better trust relationship with Tribal Governments.  Having the structures and people in place, though, won’t by itself solve these generations-long and deep-rooted problems.  We need a serious commitment on the part of this agency to get the job done—and, with this Chairman and with this Commission, we are finally making that commitment.


But success here can only be the product of our cooperative work together.  If the Commission is going to help resolve the challenges you face, it must first understand them. See them.  Feel them.  We need to hear from you on an ongoing basis about your experiences, your ideas and your priorities to help shape our day-to-day decision making.  Tribal Nations are sovereigns within this great country, and the FCC must have your input on the life-changing communications issues that matter most to your communities.  I recognize that it can be a challenge to find the resources and that you must target them appropriately, but I am a believer in the adage that decisions without you are usually not the best decisions for you.  Your being here today provides valuable and much-needed input.  Similarly, our coming—as a Commission—to Indian Country and other Native areas is equally important in making sure we are all seeing the same challenges and responding to the same sets of facts.  I hope we will do that soon—and often.


With the three proceedings we launch today, we have a real opportunity, working together, to identify barriers to the deployment and adoption of communications and media services in Indian Country and to take swift action to remove these barriers.  The Native Nations Notice of Inquiry highlights the breadth of our examination—from radio to broadband to public safety communications.  Specifically, we seek input on whether to expand the Tribal Priority for the allocation and assignment of radio channels to make it easier for Native Nations to provide other services—wireless, wireline and satellite—to their communities.  We ask about sustainable broadband models for Indian Country, and the funding needs for deployment, adoption and digital literacy on Tribal lands.  Given the unique ways that public safety communications are provisioned in Indian Country, we seek to develop a comprehensive record on the funding, jurisdictional, geographic and other challenges to ensuring that Tribal lands have access to the ubiquitous, effective and high-quality emergency communications they need and deserve.  And, for the first time to my knowledge, we ask critically important questions about accessibility barriers for persons living with disabilities on Tribal lands.


Today, we also adopt a Native Nations Spectrum Notice of Proposed Rulemaking aimed at promoting greater use of spectrum over Tribal lands.  We propose a number of innovative ideas for maximizing the spectrum resource and expanding opportunities for wireless service to Native Americans.  Among the proposals, we are looking to expand the Tribal Priority that currently applies to broadcast radio to cover commercial wireless, to require good faith on the part of incumbent wireless licensees in any negotiations for secondary market access to spectrum over Tribal lands, and to incent the building of wireless facilities by applying a safe harbor for construction obligations when a specified level of service on Tribal lands is met.  Too often, wireless carriers find that they don’t need to cover Tribal lands to meet our far-too-lenient build-out requirements—except, of course, if they happen to want to cover a highway that cuts through the area.  I have long believed that we need to apply some degree of a use-it-or-lose-it approach when it comes to the public spectrum resource.  That is why I strongly support the build-or-divest process we propose today.  Under the proposal, a Tribal Government could initiate a build-or-divest process by giving us notice that it plans to extend coverage over its Tribal lands that are unserved or underserved by licensees of that spectrum and geographic area.


Last, but certainly not least, in the Rural Radio item we address the implementation of the Tribal Priority for radio broadcast licensing for those Tribes with very small, irregularly-shaped, or no land holdings.  Our policies need to recognize that only 312 of the 564 federally-recognized Tribes occupy reservations, and I am pleased that we have initiated a waiver process to make this priority available for those Tribes.  We seek further comment on ways to maximize the benefit of this priority for Tribal entities seeking FM commercial licenses. 


There is a truly path-breaking idea presented in the Rural Radio item that proposes the use of threshold qualifications as an alternative to the Tribal Bidding Credit.  The objective here is to increase opportunities for Tribal entities to own FM broadcast stations to serve their communities.  I wish we had developed this idea earlier, but in light of the significant assurances I have received that its consideration will be fast-tracked, I think it may be the idea whose time has come.  I am anxiously awaiting commenters’ reaction to it. There are far too few radio station licenses in the hands of Native Americans—less than one-third of one percent—and this lack pulls us apart.  Media can do much to bring us closer together.  Native American interests are a fundamental component of the public interest obligations that this Commission is charged by law to safeguard and advance.


We have a long way yet to go to turn our words into concrete results for Native Americans.  And, we are all too aware of earlier times in our shared history when hopes and promises spread across Indian Country, only to be under-cut by a lack of follow-through and, sometimes, by outright deceit.  That history was often a trail of tears, and the ground is still damp with the sor

STORY TAGS: Native American News, Indian News, Native News, Minority News, Civil Rights, Discrimination, Racism, Diversity, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality

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