Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) and Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) today introduced legislation to establish a seat for a representative of American tribal communities on the Joint Board overseeing the implementation of the Universal Service Fund. The Joint Board, which makes policy recommendations to implement the universal service provisions of the Telecommunications Act, is comprised of state and federal representatives but currently has no tribal representation. The legislation is cosponsored by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Rep. Raul Grijalva, and Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI).
"The USF Joint Board plays a vital role in shaping our nation's communications policy, and it's unacceptable that our tribal communities don't have a seat at the table," said Rep. Bono Mack. "Today, there are 565 federally recognized tribes and more than 3 million Native Americans across the United States. As we continue to seek policies that will bring more communications opportunities to more Americans, our tribal communities need to be a part of the conversation."
"Access to information and communications is essential to almost every aspect of society -- health, education, job creation, and economic development -- and for far too long the unique broadband technology and infrastructure needs of tribal communities have lacked a voice in the debate over the telecommunications policies of tomorrow," said Rep. Inslee. "According to the FCC, less than 10 percent of tribal communities have access to broadband. Direct representation on the Board would be a big step toward closing the "digital divide' and meeting tribal communities' critical communication infrastructure needs."
The Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service was established in March 1996, to make recommendations to implement the universal service provisions of the Telecommunications Act. Those provisions seek to increase nationwide access to advanced telecommunication services. Currently, the Board is comprised of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioners, State Utility Commissioners, and a consumer advocate representative. Since its inception, the Joint Board has lacked a tribal representative to advocate on behalf of the unique needs and challenges facing tribal communities. By adding a tribal representative to the Board, the telecommunications needs of Tribal communities will finally be represented.