Carrier Group Wants Relief on Tribal Siting Fees…So Do the Tribes

UPDATE  A wireless lobbyist group frustrated with long waits and too many fees charged by Native American tribes is encouraging the FCC to review the process for broadband infrastructure development. The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) filed its request on July 28. The group represents rural and regional service providers, and requested a review of extra fees that could be used as a barrier to expand much needed wireless service near culturally significant tribal sites. Lobbyists are asking that all fees comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.

The CCA has an ally in the fight: the tribes themselves.  In a story run in Inside Towers on June 29, a coalition of the tribal agencies (The National Congress of American Indians) also petitioned the agency to vote on a draft order giving carriers serving tribal lands more flexibility in recovering operating expenses for deploying broadband. The NCAI said the delay is jeopardizing the financial viability of a number of carriers seeking to serve their traditionally underserved land. “We need to take this initial step to remove the harm that is being caused by the operating expense limitation rule,” NCAI President Brian Cladoosby wrote. 

While the CCA acknowledges the efforts by the tribal group, problems still persist affecting all parties and lie at the FCC’s doorstep awaiting resolution.  

“CCA has proposed many reforms to the FCC’s historic review process,” CCA President/CEO Steven K. Berry told Inside Towers. “Some of those reforms are supported by Tribes, and others are opposed. Tribal Nations are open to reforming many aspects of the process,” he said. “For example, CCA and some Tribes agree that the FCC needs to clarify exactly what is expected of each review participant with respect to fees and information requests, and the scope of projects that actually endanger historic property,” Berry said.

“All stakeholders recognize the Commission’s obligation to consult with Tribal Nations but the FCC ultimately should act to update its historic review process to support high-speed mobile broadband deployment. Changes to the historic review process are necessary for CCA members to deploy next-generation connectivity, and many Tribal Nations that strongly support deployment of these services understand the need for reform, particularly in traditionally unserved and underserved areas,” Barry told Inside Towers.

In an FCC filing, CCA declared the fees conflicted with the commission’s goal stating: “Tribal nations have not explained these rising fees, and allowing unlimited siting fees stands contrary to the commission’s ultimate goal: ubiquitous broadband deployment.” According to Legal360, CCA is including consultant fees in its taboo list.

These fees, charged by local consultants, can quickly increase the price of siting and discourage rural buildout. In the filing, CCA stated it was too easy for local consultants to “sharply escalate siting fees far beyond costs of review or reasonable consulting costs.” The FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee is expected to soon develop modern infrastructure model siting codes for municipalities and states.

August 3, 2017                   

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