Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

FCC on Track to Help Tribes with Telecommunications Infrastructure

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

FCC on Track to Help Tribes with Telecommunications Infrastructure

Article excerpt

New policies adopted by the Federal Communications Commission are helping spur the development of telecommunications infrastructure on tribal lands across the nation, the chief of the FCC's Office of Native Affairs and Policy said Tuesday.

Speaking to journalism students at the University of Oklahoma, Geoffrey Blackwell said new initiatives by the FCC are being used to expand the limited telecommunications options on tribal lands.

"Nationwide the United States has about a 98.5-percent telephone penetration rate," Blackwell said. "But on tribal lands, tribal homes have a rate of 68.9-percent telephone penetration."

And tribal broadband Internet access, he said, is even smaller.

"Nationwide we have 65-percent penetration rate," he said, "depending on how you define broadband. On tribal lands, our best estimate is somewhere between 5 and 8 percent."

In an environment where broadband is a key infrastructure, Blackwell said, telephone service is distributed on tribal lands at the rate of the rest of the country's broadband service.

"In order to deploy high-speed Internet, which is much more capital-intensive and much more infrastructure-intensive, we have our work cut out for us," he said.

Blackwell said part of the problem was the lack of inclusion of tribal nations in the 1996 Telecommunication Act.

"There was no mention of the third sovereign - the tribal nations - in 1996," he said.

To correct the problem, Blackwell said the act was amended in 1997 and again in 1999. After 1999, the FCC, responding to requests by tribal leaders, held its first hearings about the lack of telephone service on tribal lands.

"The commission held its first hearing about telecommunications services on tribal lands and learned about the alarming lack of services that is pervasive through all of the different communications technologies that the commission regulates," he said.

A year later, Blackwell said the FCC formalized a tribal liaison position to ramp up efforts to expand telecommunication services to tribal areas. Those efforts were increased again following the passage of federal stimulus legislation.

"That was a watershed moment for tribal interests," Blackwell said. …

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