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FCC Mulls Funds for Reservations

August 5, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Communications Commission proposed on Thursday spending more money to entice phone and wireless carriers to expand their services to underserved areas, particularly American Indian reservations.

The commission, in its first comprehensive study of the problem, also considered ways to help the poor pay for phone services.

Commissioners lamented what they called the agency’s failure to fulfill its mandate by leaving Native Americans without phone services.

``It’s shameful that we enter the 21st century when the basic telecommunications services of the 20th century are not enjoyed by the nation’s oldest people,″ the FCC’s chairman, Bill Kennard, said in an interview.

Only about half of American Indian homes have telephones, compared with nearly 95 percent of all American homes, Kennard said. A report in April by the Benton Foundation, a nonprofit public policy group, found that on some reservations, just 20 percent of the homes had telephones.

The FCC held hearings on the matter earlier this year on Indian reservations and wants to look at the factors impeding efforts to improve phone service. Also, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, has urged the FCC to expedite action to bring services to American Indian communities.

Commissioner Susan Ness said she was stunned by the great need for phone service. ``It’s terrible that we’ve waited so long to do it,″ she said.

Because some reservations lack phone lines, wireless and satellite services offer other ways to get telecommunication services to reservations, Kennard said. The commission is looking at incentives, such as discounted licenses, to encourage wireless carriers to expand their services.

Officials may also relax certain limits on the height and power of wireless transmission towers _ specifications that were designed for an urban environment, but may not provide effective service on a reservation or rural land.

Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, said action by the FCC to remove regulatory hurdles could help bring wireless services to reservations.

Members of the public, industry and others could comment on the proposals before they become final.

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