President Obama has made the expansion of high speed internet across the United States, including on tribal lands, a priority of his Administration. In order to advance that initiative, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently published two Notices in the FEDERAL REGISTER requesting comment on proposals to build out broadband in Indian Country. The FCC states: “The Commission has observed that communities on Tribal lands have historically had less access to telecommunications services than any other segment of the population, and that greater financial support therefore may be needed in order to ensure the availability of broadband on Tribal lands. Accordingly, the Commission seeks to adopt mechanisms to advance broadband deployment on Tribal lands.”
Two Rules Available for Comment. On June 21, 2016, a Notice seeking comment on a proposed rule concerning several specific procedures that will apply to the Phase II auction for universal service support was published by the FCC in the FEDERAL REGISTER. 81 Fed. Reg. 40,235. Available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/06/21/2016-14507/connect-america-fund-etc-annual-reports-and-certification-rural-broadband-experiments Additionally, on July 7, 2016, the FCC published a Final Rule regarding the Connect America Fund. 81 Fed. Reg. 44,413. Available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/07/07/2016-14506/connect-america-fund-etc-annual-reports-and-certifications-rural-broadband-experiments Importantly, the Final Rule includes language recognizing the challenges that exist for improving broadband access on tribal lands and asking again for comments to be submitted which will be used to assist the FCC in reaching its objective of expanding broadband access on tribal lands.
Comments on the proposed rule are due on or before July 21, 2016 and reply comments are due on or before August 5, 2016. Tribes without access to high speed internet may wish to submit comments on this vital infrastructure.
Since 2011, the FCC has issued sixteen different proposed rules requesting comments on the expansion of broadband on tribal lands and while several national Indian organizations have filed comments, very few individual tribes have. The FCC is moving forward on these initiatives and comments from Indian Country will assist in this development of critical infrastructure on tribal lands.
Notice Details. The FCC is specifically seeking comment on the process that will be used for determining which bidders will be awarded funding to build out broadband on tribal lands. Anyone who is legally, technically, financially and otherwise qualified applicant can become an eligible bidder, including a tribe or a business owned by a tribal member. The Notice requests comment on a criteria judging a bidder’s ability to provide for the expansion of broadband on tribal lands which may be weighted to its advantage in securing a place as a winning bidder. Simply put, Indian Country has before it the opportunity to influence how the FCC will award funds to businesses coming onto tribal lands to develop broadband access to tribal lands.
In seeking comments from Indian Country the FCC is open to considering any alternative auction procedures that it can adopt that will enhance its ability to meet the goal of providing broadband throughout tribal lands. This bidding process will have significant impact on the future of broadband in Indian Country and so it is crucial that the FCC hear from Indian Country on this.
Please let us know if we may provide assistance drafting comments or for further information on these Notices.