Heading Together Toward the Future

My post introducing the FCC’s infrastructure initiatives a few weeks ago mentioned Marty McFly’s misguided worries about running out of road in the 1985 film “Back to the Future.” As you might remember, Dr. Brown assured Marty that roads wouldn’t be needed in the future.

The wireless networks of the future too will look very different. Instead of just big towers that intermittently dot the landscape, the wireless networks of our future will rely on much smaller building blocks—things like “small cells” and “distributed antenna systems.” These new kinds of infrastructure take up much less space. They are generally much less noticeable. They impact the environment less. And because they operate at lower power, they will be deployed at many more locations than towers.

As we move from the networks of today to those of tomorrow, the FCC wants to work collaboratively with everyone affected—particularly Tribal partners. That’s why, later this month, I’ll hit the road to discuss this transition with Tribal Nations. Some FCC coworkers and I have been kindly invited to attend the Mid-Year Session of the National Conference of American Indians (NCAI), which is the “oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization” serving Tribal interests. We’ll be participating in consultation sessions with a number of Tribes (and in addition to these NCAI sessions, dedicated FCC staff are already doing outreach to Tribes on both conference calls and visits to Indian Country).

The FCC has a long and successful history of working with Tribes on a wide range of issues affecting Indian Country. These relationships led us to create a groundbreaking system, the Tower Construction Notification System (TCNS). This is an online system that notifies federally recognized Tribes, Native Hawaiian Organizations, and State Historic Preservation Officers about proposed wireless construction projects. The TCNS is widely acknowledged by Tribal Nations, industry, and other government entities as an important, effective tool to help ensure that these projects respect historic properties of religious and cultural significance to Tribes.

The rules, protocols, and practices governing TCNS were crafted more than a decade ago, and as I mentioned earlier, advances in wireless networks are proceeding apace. It’s a challenge to match the two, but the FCC is aiming to do that in order to modernize our rules and close the digital divide. I’m excited to discuss this initiative with our Tribal partners. Going forward—just as in the past—we want to ensure that potential effects on culturally significant sites are identified and alternatives to avoid or minimize such effects are considered.

I believe that the FCC and Tribal Nations share the same goal—ensuring high-speed Internet access to anyone who wants it, while respecting and preserving sites with historic, religious, and cultural significance to Tribes. To achieve this goal, the FCC needs to and wants to exchange perspectives with Tribes on the full range of issues associated with the deployment of wireless broadband infrastructure. I’m personally committed to that.

I invite the leaders of the 567 federally-recognized Tribes and Native Hawaiian Organizations to join this important conversation. The FCC takes seriously its federal trust responsibilities and wants to have meaningful consultations. I look forward to listening, learning, and working together to sustain and improve our processes as our wireless networks go back to the future.


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