WASHINGTON, September 23, 2022 – Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Brian Schatz Wednesday urged the Federal Communications Commission to consult more regularly with tribal leaders on spectrum licensing processes.
“A part of [the problems voiced native panelists at the roundtable] could just be avoided by better, more aggressive, more continuous, more humble consultation, and you’re going to save yourself a ton of headaches,” said Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii. “I wonder if you need to improve your ability to speak and listen to indigenous communities a bit at each stage of the process. »
“President, I think you said that very well,” replied Umair JaveChief Counsel to the Office of the FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
Tyler Iokepa Gomes, assistant to the chairman of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, told the committee about the difficulties Hawaiians face in obtaining spectrum licenses. Because the DHHL is a state entity and not a tribal government, Gomes said, it was forced to compete with two local indigenous communities in a waiver process. Gomes said her agency’s competition with the other waiver applicants has caused considerable friction in the Native Hawaiian community as a whole.
Low digital literacy is also an issue for some Indigenous communities trying to obtain spectrum licenses. “When it comes to technology, a lot of people seem to be afraid of it,” said Keith ModglinDirector of Information Technology for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, a federally recognized Indian tribe.
Modglin argued that educational initiatives aimed at increasing digital literacy and explaining the intra- and cross-community benefits of spectrum would greatly benefit his band.
The land in the Thousand Lakes Band is a “checkerboard pattern,” meaning tribal lands are interspersed with non-tribal lands, said Melanie Benjamin, the chief executive of the tribe. According to Benjamin, the government’s failure to account for this status has caused significant delays for his tribe.
In addition to improving communication, Schatz called on the FCC to take positive steps to ease regulatory burdens on small tribes. “There are truly underfunded Indigenous communities, and it shouldn’t be a maze of figuring out what they’re eligible for,” he said. “Try to find a one-stop shop, an easy way to access the resources they are entitled to under the current law.”
Javed acknowledged the need for the FCC to improve its communication with Indigenous communities, but he said the FCC is making progress in other areas. “While spectrum is one piece of that puzzle, I think we’re making a lot of progress in some of our programs like the Affordable Connectivity program, E-Rate program updates, some of our mapping efforts as well” , did he declare.