At the Commission’s March meeting the FCC approved changes to the rules governing priority for new tribe-owned stations intended to serve Native American populations. Previously, priority for licenses was granted to federally-recognized Tribes seeking licenses to serve Tribal-owned lands, such as reservations. The March 3 report and order (PDF) now gives Tribes the opportunity to seek waivers that would give them priority in obtaining licenses to serve regions with a population of Tribe members, but that does not contain any Tribal lands. The order was adopted in part due to recognition that there are some Tribes that do not own Tribal lands and approximately two-thirds of Tribal members do not live on Tribal lands. In the US there are 563 recognized tribes, but only 312 reservations.
Tribes may justify their waiver request by “detail[ing] how a proposed service to the area would aid the Tribe in serving the needs and interests of its citizens in that community, and thus further the goals of the Tribal Priority.” A Tribe may also demonstrate that it has a seat of government or office within the station’s proposed service area, or that more than fifty percent of its membership lives in that area.
Native Public Media and the National Congress of American Indians issued a statement hailing the order, calling it a
groundbreaking important step in the right direction to solve the pervasive problems of the lack of myriad communications services in Tribal communities. 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.