FCC reaffirms “tribal priority” for broadcast licenses

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The Federal Communications on Wednesday (Dec. 28) issued an order reaffirming the “tribal priority” it created in 2009 to bolster Native American rights in broadcast licenses. In a concurring statement, retiring Commissioner Michael Copps called the order a “wonderful step” toward “bringing modern telecommunications to Indian Country.”

John Crigler, a longtime telecom attorney working with Native Public Media (NPM), told Current that the order recognizes “the inherent right of tribes to serve their own people, by recognizing that tribes and Alaska Native villages are political, not racial classifications.”

Crigler said the FCC adopted a requirement that protects tribes from proposing a broadcast allocation, only to lose it to a non-tribal bidder at auction. Now, only a tribal entity may bid on a tribal priority allocation. Both the NPM and the National Congress of American Indians supported that concept. Crigler said a channel allocated under the tribal priority may be a awarded to a non-tribal entity only if the tribe that proposed the allocation did not concurrently submit an application and no other qualifying tribal entity bid on the channel in an auction. “Tribes therefore get ‘two bites of the apple’ before having to surrender a channel that serves tribal lands to a non-tribal entity,” Crigler said.

UPDATE, Jan. 4: More details here, from the Telecommunications Law Resource Center.