Friday, February 11, 2011

Native American Telecom Issues Highlight FCC’s March Meeting 02/11/2011 San Francisco - The tentative agenda for the March 3, 2011 open meeting of the Federal Communications Commission will focus on the abysmal state of telecom networks serving Native Americans. 
Chairman Marcus Levings, of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold
Reservation in North Dakota speaks to President Obama during the Native
American Summit in November 2009. Fort Berthold was funded with a 
broadband stimulus grant / loan award. (Photo: Doug Mills, New York Times)
With 3 associated items on the subject, the meeting marks the first time in memory that the FCC has put such an intense focus on the challenges of telecom in Indian Country.

Commissioners will also review an additional 4 items. The attention grabber from among the latter agenda points will be a new effort to resolve the noisome issue of retransmission consent - the legal relationships between cable systems and television broadcasters that result in program blackouts for subscribers when they go awry.

Setting the Native American Telecom Agenda: Obama and Copps
FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps, leading
advocate for Native American tech and telecom issues.
The Commission focus on Native American telecom results from the Obama Administration’s pledge of a new consultative relationship with Native Nations on issues across the gamut of federal agencies and programs.

It is also testimony to the years of work by FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps, the dean of Commissioners and former Acting Chairman. Copps has repeatedly called for the FCC, and for the federal government as a whole, to coherently address the third world-like level of telecom deployment across much of Indian County.

Copps remarked last November bluntly and correctly, in an address on the state of telecom facilities serving the lands and disperse populations of First Americans, “It’s a national disgrace, and we need to fix it.”

Broadband Stimulus in Indian Country: Some Grants / Loans, Mapping Stymied
The Administration’s broadband stimulus program did result in grant and loan awards made to a handful of tribal authorities and carriers serving Tribal Lands. Most notable among these were awards which will deliver the greatest single boost to broadband deployment on the vast Navajo Reservation, an area larger than the entire State of Rhode Island. 

A plan floated within the Department of Commerce to fund a dedicated broadband mapping effort using stimulus monies for Indian Country did not however win approval. Somewhere between Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's office and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the plan was vetoed. No doubt the plan didn’t see the light of day for the often seen Washington policy syndrome of "It “wasn’t invented here.” Here, in this case being the NTIA.

Native American Telecom Items
The 3 items on Native American telecom are, from the FCC release of yesterday:

•     Native Nations Spectrum NPRM:  A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to explore a range of recommendations to help close the wireless gap on Tribal Lands.

•     Tribal and Rural Radio Orders and FNPRM:  Orders revising rules or establishing waiver standards that will make it easier for Native Nations to provide radio service to areas that are the functional equivalent of Tribal Lands and to Tribal Lands that are small or irregularly shaped.  A further notice invites additional comment on adopting a Tribal Bidding Credit and alternative ways to foster radio service by Native Nations on their lands.  Also, an order adjusting policies for determining whether proposed new radio stations or station moves constitute an equitable distribution of radio service under Section 307(b) of the Communications Act. 

•     Omnibus NOI on Improving Communications Services for Native Nations:  A Notice of Inquiry that explores ways to overcome the barriers to deployment of communications services to Native Nations communities, and to improve consultation and coordination with Native Nations.

Additionally, four other items are now slated for the March meeting, lead by the Commission’s effort to again reach an adequate balancing of interests around the continued and controversial issues of retransmission consent. 

No doubt there will be more threats of programming blackouts in media markets around the country, and actual blackouts themselves before the Commission finds a resolution to these controversies that have a history going back over decades.

The four miscellaneous items, also from the FCC release of yesterday (titles are ours):

Retransmission Consent
•     NPRM to Streamline and Clarify the Commission’s Rules Governing Retransmission Consent:  A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on changes to rules governing or affecting retransmission consent negotiations between broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors.

Lifeline/Link Up Reform
•     Lifeline/Link Up Reform and Modernization NPRM:  A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to reform the Universal Service Fund’s Lifeline and Link Up programs to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse; improve program administration, accountability, and fiscal responsibility; and modernize the program in light of market and technology changes, including to support pilot programs for broadband adoption.

Disability Access: Advanced Communications Services
•     Advanced Communications Services NPRM:  A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on rules implementing provisions of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA).  The NPRM proposes rules requiring providers of advanced communications services and manufacturers of equipment used for those services to make their products accessible to people with disabilities.

Disability Access: Video Description NPRM
•     Video Description NPRM:  Also implementing the CVAA, this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes to reinstate the video description rules adopted by the Commission in 2000, as directed by Congress.
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