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Tribal Radio Priority

by: Geoffrey C. Blackwell, Chief, Office of Native Affairs and Policy

March 1, 2013

In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission established a Tribal Radio Priority to expand the number of radio stations owned by American Indian Tribes broadcasting to Tribal lands.  The Tribal Priority is a FCC rule through which Tribes or Tribally owned or controlled entities may more easily obtain broadcast radio licenses in both the AM and FM bands.  The Tribal Priority is intended not only to provide radio service tailored to specific Tribal needs and cultures, but to increase ownership of such radio stations by Tribes and Tribally owned entities.  In doing so, the Tribal Priority also fosters localism and diversity of ownership.

The need for Tribal radio stations is clear.  There are 566 federally recognized American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages.  Approximately one-third of the 4.1 million Native American population lives on Tribal lands, which comprise over 55 million acres, or 2.3 percent of the area of the United States, exclusive of Alaska.  Despite this, fewer than 100 broadcast radio stations are licensed to Tribes or affiliated groups, a fraction of one percent of all radio station owners.  We have visited many parts of Indian Country and we have seen how people in Native Communities can benefit from radio – to prepare for and recover from emergencies, to preserve Native culture, language and music, and to convey important information to Tribal members.

Today, the Commission for the first time added FM allotments under the Tribal Priority.  Proposed by Navajo Technical College, an educational institution owned by the Navajo Nation, an allotment was added at Crownpoint, New Mexico.  A second allotment, proposed by the Hualapai Tribe, was added for new FM service at Peach Springs, Arizona.  Now that these allotments have been added, a filing window will open shortly for qualified Tribal applicants to apply for construction permits to build and operate FM stations in these communities. 

We congratulate the Navajo Nation and the Hualapai Tribe in being the first to benefit from the Tribal Priority.  We look forward to working with other Tribal Nations so they can also benefit from the opportunities afforded by the Tribal Radio Priority. 

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