The Federal Communications Commission is making good on a commitment to promote radio service tailored to the needs of local tribal and rural communities.
For the Blackfeet Nation, formally known as the Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana, that undertaking has translated into the tentative selection of its application to build a new noncommercial educational (NCE) FM station in Little Browning, Mont.
The announcement comes after the closing of the November NCE FM new station application filing window available for the FM reserved band, Channels 201–220, which is 88.1 to 91.9 on the dial.
In November the bureau issued a public notice identifying 231 groups of mutually exclusive (MX) NCE FM applications. MX applications refers to situations where multiple groups have applied for the same or adjacent channels but only one application in the group can be successful.
Group 131 included the Blackfeet Nation as well as Holy Spirit Radio Inc., which proposed to construct a new station in Conrad, Mont.
In considering two MX applicants, the Media Bureau said it used tribal priority criteria, service area population data and certifications provided by the applicants to make a decision.
In this case, it followed a threshold tribal priority process that guides the commission in ascertaining if any of the applicants in the MX group are a Native American tribe or Alaska native village proposing to serve tribal lands. It was in 2010 that the commission agreed to a series of policies to promote rural radio service with a key takeaway from that proceeding: It was in the public interest to prioritize tribes when reviewing AM and FM NCE applications and FM allotments.
“Because of their status as sovereign nations responsible for, among other things, maintaining and sustaining their sacred histories, languages and traditions, tribes have a vital role to play in serving the needs and interests of their local communities,” the commission wrote in its report and order.
If only one applicant in a group qualifies for the tribal priority, that applicant will be awarded the construction permit. The applicant must identify as a tribal applicant, propose tribal coverage and offer to provide the first reserved channel NCE service owned by a tribal applicant on those tribal lands. In its application, the Blackfeet Nation said it could meet those requirements.
The other applicant in the MX group, Holy Spirit, does not claim to be a tribe. As a result, the Media Bureau selected the Blackfeet Nation as the tentative selectee.
But the selection is a tentative one. The Media Bureau has created a 30-day window for receiving objection petitions before the application can receive approval. If the process moves forward from there, the bureau will dismiss the MX application of Holy Spirit and formally award the construction permit to the Blackfeet Nation.
The tribe, whose 3,000-square-mile reservation sits east of Glacier National Park and borders the Canadian province of Alberta, also operates station KBWG(LP) on 107.5 MHz in Browning, Mont.