WASHINGTON (CN) – New FM radio stations allotted to Native American tribal lands will be owned by tribes or tribal entities under new rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC made the change after determining that auctions for new commercial radio stations covering tribal areas do not comply with the Tribal Priority provisions of the Communications Act.
Those provisions presume that tribes, or entities controlled by tribes, are uniquely suited to understand and meet the needs of tribal communities served by new commercial stations.
Commercial stations are currently distributed by a geographically based allotment process. During that process, known as a 307 (b) process for a section of the Communications Act, petitioners ask the FCC to grant an allotment for a station based on factors such lack of existing service and the demographics of local communities.
Once a new station is allotted, an open auction is held for its license. As a result permits for stations specifically allotted to serve the needs of tribal communities could be purchased by broadcasters who did not meet the Tribal Priority provisions.
The FCC rejected a plan which would have given tribal entities auction credits of up to 60 percent to make them more competitive, finding that the risk of outside bidders winning was still too high.
Instead the agency has adopted threshold qualifications for bidders on new station permits. Those qualifications require bidders to show they are a federally recognized tribe or tribal consortium or an entity that is 51 percent owned by a tribe or consortium.
Tribes or tribal consortiums must also show that at least 50 percent of the new station’s broadcast area will cover their land. Special exemptions will allow tribes or tribal consortiums who do not have designated lands to participate in the allotment and auction process.