Tribal Consultations on Telecommunications Held in Arizona

August 31, 2010 was a busy day for Tribal consultations in Arizona.  In the morning, the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona hosted the USDA Rural Development Tribal Consultation at the Heard Museum and in the afternoon, the National Tribal Telecommunications Association (NTTA) held their quarterly meeting at Wild Horse Pass.

The USDA Rural Development Tribal Consultation Meeting was regarding the Substantially Underserved Trust Area (SUTA) Provision of the 2008 Farm Bill.  This facilitated two-hour consultation included Rural Development representative, Alan Stephens, the Arizona State Director and a representative from the Rural Utilities Service, Jessica Zufolo from Washington. It was a packed house, with more participants than expected.  Even though it was an Arizona tribal consultation, there was one tribal member from Cheyenne River who came for the consultation.

After an overview of rules and services, the dialogue ensued. Interestingly, while RUS deals with rural electric, water and waste disposal, telecommunications infrastructure, and distance learning and telemedicine, the topic of concern and the most discussion was broadband connectivity.  It is clear, that tribes are extremely interested and concerned about telecommunications infrastructure and access to the internet for their respective communities. The discussions just kept leading back to this issue; there was little reference to the other areas that the SUTA provisions cover.

This consultation was structured primarily as a listening session and there was a court reporter taking detailed notes. The notes on this consultation should be posted here in the near future.

The afternoon meeting was the opening session of the NTTA Quarterly Meetings. This well attended meeting was also focused on telecommunications.  The majority of the afternoon included a presentation and listening session with the new FCC Office of Native Affairs and Policy.  The Bureau Chief of this office, Geoffrey Blackwell, was joined by several members of his staff.  Blackwell gave a thorough overview of the tasks that his office will undertake. He also asked for input on how to reshape the Indian Telecommunications Initiative and make these yearly meetings more interactive.  This office promises to create two-way communications and dialogue with Indian country.

As a part of this FCC listening session, the NTTA presented information to the FCC.  NTTA’s primary issues include regulatory reform, the creation of a Tribal Broadband Fund, Tribal infrastructure and broadband access, DTV Transition results, and building Tribal policy participation in Washington D.C.

The NTTA Quarterly Meeting continued on through Wednesday September 1st. This day was primarily spent discussing NTTA business.

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