GAO: FCC Could Do More to Measure Tribal Broadband

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concludes that while the FCC has emphasized improving Internet access on tribal lands, it hasn't created the mechanisms to gauge whether or not it is succeeding. The FCC saw it slightly differently.

That is according to a new GAO report requested by Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Communications Subcommittee. "As the GAO report concludes, we can be doing more, and we should be doing more," she said in releasing the report.

"Without these goals and measures FCC cannot assess the impact of its efforts," the report said. The FCC agreed on the goals, but signaled, for the most part, that it had the mechanisms in place.

GAO argues that the National Broadband Map has information the FCC could use to establish "baseline measures for Internet availability on tribal lands." Further, FCC also lacks performance goals and measures for tribal institutions—such as schools and libraries. Specifically, FCC's E-rate program provides funds to ensure that schools and libraries have affordable access to modern broadband technologies, but FCC has not set any performance goals for the program's impact on tribal institutions. Nor has FCC defined "tribal” on the E-rate application.

Absent those metrics, GAO suggests, "it will be difficult to accurately track progress in making broadband available in tribal institutions."

Not surprisingly, the GAO recommendations track with those perceived deficits.

"1) develop joint training and outreach with USDA; (2) develop performance goals and measures for tribal areas for improving broadband availability to households; (3) develop performance goals and measures for improving broadband availability to tribal schools and libraries; and (4) improve the reliability of FCC data related to institutions that receive E-rate funding by defining 'tribal' on the program application. FCC agreed with the recommendations."

GAO always runs its reports by the agency cited, and the FCC responded to each point, generally saying: Been there, doing that.

In a joint letter to GAO, acting Wireline Competition Bureau chief Matt DelNero and acting Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau chief Alison Kutler said that 1) the FCC had worked with the USDA on outreach to tribal lands and would continue to do so; 2) that the FCC already has goals and tools in place that can be used to track its progress in making broadband available to tribal lands, which show the FCC already making progress; 3) that it agreed it needed to better define "tribal" and would work with the Universal Service Administrative Co. to provide guidance on the term; 4) that the FCC has adopted E-rate goals and performance measures to assess its progress with tribal schools and libraries.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.