Currently, I am serving the membership as the appointed CBC delegate for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Native Nations Communications Taskforce appointed by the FCC Commissioners comprised of (25) Tribal Officials. The Colville Tribe was instrumental in regaining this seat through a stringent vetting process. In addition, I was selected as the Tribal Official for the FirstNet/First Responder Network Authority, Broadband State and Federal Legislation Initiatives and the CCT Business Communications Lease Workgroup.
Responding to FCC Notice of Proposed Rule Makings (NPRM) and Notice of Inquiries (NOI) proposed communications policy matters by the FCC Commission is a tremendous responsibly for our team. Through my leadership and with the assistance of our Legal and Information Technology (IT) team, who are the Subject Matter Experts (SME) the Colville Tribes team has been actively monitoring and filing comments on matters that have the potential to impact or improve broadband/communications services to Tribal lands. Here is a list of CCT filed comments or verbalized at the FCC Tribal Workshops: Tribal Government Engagement Obligation; FCC Tribal Priority; Broadband Deployment on Tribal Lands; Connected Care Pilot Program; Broadcast Radio Incubator; and Electronic Comment Filing Systems (ECFS).
FCC Native Nations Communications Taskforce (NNCTF) attended our first in-person meeting in December 2018 at the FCC headquarters in Washington DC. The taskforce was briefed on the roles and responsibilities and introduced to the FCC Commissioners and Bureau divisions; Office of Native Affairs and Policy, Consumer and Governmental Affairs, Wireless Telecommunication and the Wireline Competition. The taskforce meeting will require three quarterly in-person appearances and through Ad Hoc conference calls with participation by the FCC members and staff. The NNCTF is not subject to the procedures set forth in the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) because of an exemption provided under the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA). The UMRA exemption is intended to promote free exchange of ideas between officials of the federal government and state, local and tribal governments (or their designated employees) on matters of common interest while meeting in closed sessions. These meetings are not open to the public. The primary focus is providing Tribal feedback on Tribal engagement policy matters and we must abide by a non-disclosure agreement, not to disclose.
FirstNet is a $240 million congressionally -approved program responsible for the administrative operations for a First Responder’s Public Safety Network Build-out. AT & T was awarded the RFP to engineer the $78 million-dollar network enhancements for First Responders’ communications needs during disasters across the United States. Our reservation Tribal First Responders are comprised of Public Safety, Tribal Police, EMT and MTFC programs. The CCT Team requested two Tribal Consultations sessions with the Regional staff and the other with Edward Parkinson, Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the FirstNet headquarters in Washington, DC. As the appointed delegate, during my FCC Native Nations Task Force meeting I was able to secure this meeting where the Colville Tribes was praised for being the first Tribe in the United States to meet the National staff and the CEO. This was an essential chess move for the Tribes as a whole because these officials heard first-hand from this tribal leader about our broadband communications needs and will be aware of our issues when it comes to providing services and support to Tribes for electronic communications systems. I provided background to the major disasters our Tribe has experienced with our devastating Forest Fires, Wind Storms and Flood disasters, all of which have occurred in just the past few years and will likely reoccur in the future. There is a great unmet need for critical enhanced broadband and two-way radio emergency communications not only for our First Responders, but for our people. My visit was well received, and the CEO committed to doing a site tour this summer to learn more and visually see our communications barrier with our geographical terrain. The Tribe extended an invitation to the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai as well. While I cannot disclose proprietary information, I will let the membership know when the Colville Tribes will significantly reap benefits of these efforts, likely in the very near future.
On Broadband Legislative Initiatives; since January 2019 I have made four trips to the State Capital to provide testimony before Governor Inslee and the State Legislative Committees on two proposed broadband bills. Upon reviewing House Bill 1498, I immediately identified that the bill did not provide the ability to leverage the Colville Tribe’s $6 million-dollar fiber infrastructure investment as an “in-kind” match for a grant or loan. I proposed several changes in the legislation which would help Colville and similar rural and remote Tribes in Washington and Senator John McCoy took our language exactly as we presented it to him and amended Senate Bill 5511to include priority treatment for rural and remote Tribes such as Colville which have already invested millions of tribal dollars in attempting to meet the needs for expanded broadband in our communities. This amended bill was formally supported by the Affiliated Tribes Northwest Indians (ATNI) as a result of my efforts to work with the ATNI Executive Committee, which issued an Emergency Resolution to be distributed to all Washington lawmakers, expressing the ATNI’s strong support for SB 5511 as amended by the Colville Tribes/Senator McCoy.
I was able to communicate our request for this resolution to ATNI because of my affiliation with the organization as a former ATNI Telecom Committee Co-Chair. Although the Washington House companion bill to SB5511 does not include the Tribes’ preferred language, a compromise bill maintains much of what we were after, identifying Tribes as potential recipients of grants/loans. Although the CBC found this disappointing, my testimony in opposition to the House Bill, which included no specific references to Tribes, led to an amendment that is still beneficial to the Tribes. I am happy that lawmakers heard, again, that they cannot continue to ignore rural and remote Tribes when people in metropolitan areas enjoy broadband services we simply do not have. The current amended bill is going through its final approval phase’s, the Colville Tribes will have the ability to apply for a loan or grant to extend the fiber infrastructure to the homes for everyone in our underserved and unserved rural and remote communities. We will need to strategically plan for this application submittal. The Tribal membership deserves to have high-speed access it is a necessity in today’s world for Education, Health, Employment and Economic Development endeavors. The membership needs to lobby all CBC members to make this a priority for our people. Without this critical infrastructure our membership cannot enjoy the benefits of robust communications systems that others in cities take for granted. We will close the digital divide by addressing through the Tribally-planned capital projects.
For the CCT Business Communications workgroup efforts, our (20+) Team meets monthly to address communications landline and wireless providers lease renewals and new lease applications. We determine the land and communications leases’ Fair Market Value by following the federal CFR’s and Colville Tribal Code Chapter 4-22 Wireless Facilities Communications Codes. When a communications provider upgrades their equipment, or a new site is planned the Tribe now negotiates the industry FMV with annual lease revenue of $338K. The Tribes, unfortunately, was starting to go backwards and for all intents and purposes lost sight of managing the lease(s) and the Mt Tops sites. I was instrumental in gaining the support and approval of a CBC Tribal resolution to reinstate the technical team and address these deficiencies.
In conclusion, please know that our CCT Legal and IT technical team has been busy on broadband/communications development at the state and federal levels. Our Tribe is fortunate and I as a Tribal Leader to have the support 30+ Tribal departmental professional technical staff, who go above and beyond to assist with these Tribal communications matters on the our membership’s behalf.
Susie Allen, CBC