On Monday, October 21, 2019, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (“Bureau”) released a Public Notice (“Notice”) seeking comment on the Commission’s Tribal engagement process and refreshing the record on related Petitions for Reconsideration (WC Docket No. 10-90). The Bureau specifically seeks comment on how to facilitate and improve conversation and coordination between Tribes and Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (“ETCs”) to ensure successful broadband deployment and adoption on Tribal lands.

In 2011, the Commission released the USF/ICC Transformation Order that reformed and modernized the Universal Service and intercarrier compensation systems, and adopted an annual Tribal engagement obligation for ETCs that received high-cost funds for Tribal lands service. Several parties sought reconsideration of the Tribal engagement and reporting obligations – these objections remain pending. Following the Order, the Office of Native Affairs and Policy (“ONAP”), and the Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) issued the Tribal Engagement Further Guidance Public Notice in 2012, developing a set of engagement process best practices for Tribal governments and communications providers.

Following complaints from Tribes that the current engagement process is lacking in several areas, the Commission now seeks comment to assess the effectiveness of and address the issues in the engagement process between ETCs and Tribes. The Notice seeks comment on the general effectiveness of the Commission’s practical guidance in facilitating coordination between Tribal governments and ETCs, specific steps the Commission can take to help facilitate engagement between parties, and other best practices or policies that have been developed and adopted in the field. For instance, the Bureau seeks comment on recommending that parties meet more than once a year and the associated costs of meetings, designating specific points of contacts, engaging in in-person meetings, and other practices that may facilitate improved engagement.

Additionally, the Bureau requests that parties refresh the record on pending Petitions for Reconsideration, and indicate if any issues have been resolved or otherwise rendered moot. Specifically, the Notice invites ETCs challenging the engagement obligation to provide specific information about the burdens and expenses incurred and whether these costs have increased or decreased.

Comments are due December 5, 2019.

Reply Comments are due January 6, 2020.

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