NCAI and NPM Oppose FCC Commissioner Pai’s Lifeline Proposal

Published on Mar 30, 2016

March 30, 2016

Jamie Gomez

NCAI and NPM Respond to FCC Commissioner Pai’s Criticism of Enhanced Tribal Lifeline Support

Washington, DC – In response to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Ajit Pai’s proposal to limit enhanced tribal support under the Lifeline program, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and Native Public Media (NPM) believe the Commissioner’s justification relies on an inaccurate understanding of tribal lands. Commissioner Pai’s proposal to reform enhanced tribal Lifeline support will negatively impact the program’s purpose of providing affordable phone services to low-income residents on tribal lands.

On March 29th, Commissioner Pai issued a Press Statement outlining his proposals to reform the Lifeline program. Currently, the program provides a monthly phone bill discount for low-income consumers and enhanced tribal support for residents of tribal lands. Commissioner Pai proposes to limit enhanced tribal support to counties with less than 50 people per square mile and proclaimed that Lifeline was, “intended to support the construction of [telecommunications] facilities in Indian Country, but has instead encouraged abuse of the program in large cities (like Tulsa, Oklahoma and Reno, Nevada) and suburban communities (like Chandler, Arizona).”

NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata and NPM Board Chair Matthew Rantanen issued a joint response stating, “We are supportive of sensible reforms to the Lifeline program to cut waste, fraud, and abuse. However, Commissioner Pai’s understanding of enhanced tribal support disregards the program’s purpose to provide affordable phone services for low-income residents on tribal lands. It is also important to note that areas like Chandler, AZ are not located within the legal boundaries of any tribal lands. These misinterpretations overshadow the needs of the over 40 percent of tribal lands lacking access to vital telecommunications services.”

NCAI and NPM assert that restricting enhanced tribal support to county level metrics—instead of the legal and historical boundaries of tribal lands—will further impede the build out and adoption of communications services in Indian Country. Additionally, Commissioner Pai’s statements regarding Lifeline’s purpose as an infrastructure program is greatly misguided as other programs regulated by the FCC are specifically designed to support infrastructure build out.

During the FCC’s initial rulemaking last year to reform the Lifeline program, Oklahoma was targeted as the center of ‘waste, fraud, and abuse’ because most of the state was recognized as ‘tribal land’. Since then, Commissioner Pai has specifically targeted the enhanced tribal support without recognizing the unique tenants of federal Indian law and the legal tribal lands status of Oklahoma and elsewhere. “Commissioner Pai’s remarks overall are unfair to Indian Country and its citizens who need these vital services for healthcare, emergencies, social services, and to provide contact information for job applications,” conclude Pata and Rantanen.

The FCC is set to make a final ruling on proposals to finalize reforms to the Lifeline Program during its Open Meeting on March 31st. 


About The National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit

About Native Public Media:
Native Public Media is a national organization dedicated to bringing media opportunities to Native Americans across the United States on multiple platforms including radio, television and the Internet. There are currently 56 Native owned and licensed radio stations serving tribal communities. NPM provides programs and services to the Native media network in areas of regulatory compliance, digital literacy, community engagement and telecommunications and communications policymaking. For more information visit

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