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    Arent Fox Files Petition With FCC on Behalf of Oglala Sioux Tribe to Block Verizon’s Transfer of Reservation Wireless Network to AT&T

    March 11, 2010

    WASHINGTON, DC, March 10, 2010 – Arent Fox LLP, representing the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, today filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission asking the agency to block Verizon’s effort to renege on the company’s contractual obligation to the Tribe and to stop Verizon from transferring the service network and spectrum to another provider without first obtaining the Tribe’s approval.

    “The Oglala Sioux Reservation at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, is the second largest Reservation in the United States.  It is also the poorest, with more than 90 percent of the Pine Ridge residents living below the federal poverty line,” said the Tribe’s attorney Jon Canis, a partner with the law firm Arent Fox in Washington, DC.  “It is an outrage that Verizon – the second largest telecom company in the country and a Fortune 20 company – would pursue a campaign of obstruction and legal games in order to renege on its contractual obligations to the Tribe.”

    The dispute stems from an August 2000 contract between the Tribe and Western Wireless, a cellular carrier that has since been acquired by Verizon. Under the contract, titled the Tate Woglaka Service Agreement, the Tribe would support Western Wireless’ designation as an “eligible telecommunications carrier,” which would entitle Western to collect federal subsidies from the Universal Service Fund (USF).

    (The Universal Service Fund was created by Congress to promote the availability of telephone services telecommunication to all US consumers, including those in low-income, rural, insular, and high cost areas.)

    In return, Western Wireless would provide wireless service to the Tribe’s Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, share some of the revenues with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and, at some future date, turn over the network to the Tribe. The contract also provided that Western Wireless was subject to the Tribe’s jurisdiction.

    In 2001, with the support of the Tribe, Western Wireless started receiving financial assistance from the federal USF. Between 2001 and the present, Verizon (which now owns Western Wireless) and its predecessors have received an estimated $46 million in USF support for the services they provided on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

    Now, however, Verizon is attempting to renege on its contractual obligation to turn the Pine Ridge network over to the Tribe. Instead, Verizon is seeking to transfer the spectrum and other network assets to AT&T without the Tribe’s consent, in violation of the contract.

    “Verizon is required under the Tate Woglaka Service Agreement to obtain Tribal approval for any transfer of the Pine Ridge network to a third party,” writes Mr. Canis in a letter to the FCC dated March 10, 2010. “Within the last few months, and after extensive correspondence between Tribal officials and their counsel and counsel for Verizon, it became apparent to the Tribe that Verizon was not negotiating in good faith, and would not honor the Tribe’s request for the transfer of the network serving the Pine Ridge Reservation.”

    If Verizon transfers the Pine Ridge Network to AT&T without the consent of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Tribe will be “irreparably harmed,” writes Mr. Canis.

    “The Tribe lived up to its obligations under the contract it has had with Verizon and its predecessors,” said Mr. Canis in a statement after filing the petition with the FCC. “Those companies have been enriched to the tune of $46 million. Now that it’s time for Verizon to live up to its contractual obligations, and turn the Pine Ridge telecom network over to the Tribe, Verizon is using its vastly greater resources in an attempt to void the contract and evade the jurisdiction of the Tribal Court.  We are asking the FCC not to approve Verizon’s transfer of the Pine Ridge spectrum and other assets until the Tribal Court can hear the case and resolve the dispute.”

    To read the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Petition to the FCC, please click here.

    To read the Attachments to the Petition, click here.

    To read a summary of the Petition, please click here.