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FCC Acts to Encourage Native American Stations

Establishes priority for stations on tribal land; Native American groups call move ‘unprecedented’

The Federal Communications Commission has been trying to figure out a way to increase the amount of media voices available to Native Americans.

It now has adopted an order establishing a priority for American Indian tribes and Alaska native villages proposing FM allotments on tribal land, as well as those submitting AM and noncom educational FM filing window applications for stations on their land.

“In addition to some of the lowest levels of telephony and broadband Internet services in the nation, American Indians and Alaska Natives have been largely invisible in the broadcasting industry on all levels ranging from media access, to control and ownership of broadcast facilities,” stated Native Public Media and the National Congress of American Indians, which hailed the FCC’s order as unprecedented and called it a step in the right direction.

The commission also seeks comments on further questions related to Native American radio.

Though more than 1 million Native Americans and Alaska natives live on 55+ million acres of tribal lands, tribes hold licenses only for 41 radio stations, according to the commission. To address the imbalance, the commission passed the order establishing a tribal priority in its licensing processing rules.

This gives precedence to federally recognized Native American Tribes and Alaska native villages or companies controlled by tribes that want to establish new radio stations designed to serve communities on tribal lands.

In addition, the agency streamlined its application and assignment procedures to help qualified applicants to more rapidly introduce new radio service. These improvements include:

  • • Prohibiting an AM application that gets a CP through a preference from downgrading the service level;
  • • Requiring technical proposals for new or major change AM facilities filed with Form 175 applications to meet certain technical standards to be eligible for further auction processing; and
  • • Giving the Media and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus authority to cap AM filing window applications.

The commission has also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking comment on whether the FCC should help applicants acquire new commercial stations by establishing an auction bidding credit for federally recognized Native American tribes and Alaska Native Villages, and whether and how to extend the tribal priority to tribes that do not have tribal lands. Comment deadlines for these proposals, to MB Docket No. 09-52, will be announced later.