Two Native tribes are first to benefit from FCC rules favoring tribal applicants

Native tribes in New Mexico and Arizona are the first to benefit from the FCC’s Tribal Radio Priority, a provision created by the commission to help tribal entities start new radio stations. The FCC announced March 1 that it set aside FM allotments for Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, N.M., and for the Hualapai Tribe in Peach Springs, Ariz. Allotments serve as placeholders for future FM stations; the tribes must now wait until the FCC opens a filing window and accepts their applications for construction permits. The commission created the Tribal Radio Priority provision in 2010, establishing standards by which Native tribes could be given priority in securing licenses for AM and FM stations. “The need for Tribal radio stations is clear,” wrote Geoffrey Blackwell, chief of the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy, in a blog post announcing the allotments.

Ariz. man accused of stealing PTFP funds pleads not guilty

The Arizona man indicted on charges of embezzling federal funds that were given to start a Native radio station pleaded not guilty April 26 in the District of Arizona U.S. District Court, according to online court records. The attorney representing the defendant, John Bittner, said he may file a motion for Bittner to be mentally evaluated. A jury trial was set for June 5. As Current reported April 23, Bittner is alleged to have used $322,364 in Public Telecommunications Facilities Program funds on personal expenses, including a car, medical costs, child support payments and a trip to Las Vegas. After his indictment, Bittner attempted suicide and spent time in a hospital in Flagstaff, Ariz., his hometown.

Feds arrest Arizona man for stealing Native group’s PTFP money

An Arizona man with a background in Native radio faces federal civil and criminal charges for using a federal grant for personal expenses rather than its intended purpose — starting a radio station for two Navajo organizations. An indictment filed March 27 in the District of Arizona U.S. District Court alleges that John Bittner of Flagstaff misrepresented himself as a certified engineer to New Mexico-based Navajo groups. He obtained a Public Telecommunications Facilities Program grant based on a building plan that he is alleged to have lied about. After the Navajo groups received a PTFP grant at Bittner’s urging, the purported engineer used the $322,364 for child support payments, medical and legal expenses, travel and other personal spending, according to the indictment and a court suit. An FCC FM construction permit awarded to Diné Agriculture Inc., a Navajo nonprofit in Shiprock, N.M., expired in January, dashing plans for the station Bittner had promised to build.