The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking comment on ways to improve the dialogue between tribes and carriers that provide subsidized telephone and broadband services to tribal areas using federal universal service funds. Current FCC rules require these carriers to engage in annual discussions with tribes to develop a common understanding of communications deployment. However, the process has not been fully effective.

The FCC states that it has received reports of problems “with providers’ efforts to initiate engagement with Tribal leaders,” including difficulty in keeping current with tribal leaders and “varying levels of responsive from Tribes.” Some tribes have expressed concern that carriers were unwilling to travel to tribal lands for the discussions. In light of such concerns, the FCC seeks comment on the following:

  • Specific steps the FCC can take or recommend to assist parties in their engagement efforts.
  • Whether parties should meet more than once a year.
  • The cause of the reported difficulties in the engagement process.
  • The benefit of in-person meetings as compared to phone or video-conference discussions.
  • Best practices that have fostered meaningful engagements.

Finally, the FCC also seeks to refresh the record on previously filed petitions asking the agency to reconsider the engagement obligation, and the requirement to submit reports on the discussions to the FCC, on the grounds that it is overly burdensome.

The FCC’s proceeding offers an opportunity for tribes and carriers to inform the agency on how to improve the engagement process and, as a result, improve the provision of broadband services in tribal areas. Comments to the FCC are due on Dec. 5, 2019, and reply comments are due on Jan. 6, 2020.