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Wampanoags Gain ‘Millions’ in Phone Bidding Settlement

December 20, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Wampanoag Indians of Gay Head, Mass., dropped a bid to run a Cape Cod cellular phone service Wednesday in exchange for ″millions of dollars″ in a settlement with a competing telephone company.

NYNEX Mobile Communications, a subsidiary of NYNEX Corp., agreed to the settlement which clears an obstacle for it to run a cellular phone servce on the Cape.

The tribal president said the money will go toward other economic development programs for the Wampanoags, possibly including a resort complex on Martha’s Vineyard island.

″We both got what we wanted, actually,″ said Donald Widdiss, president of the Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head Inc. ″We feel we can leverage the money we have to go into other ventures.″

Those include setting up a museum and cultural center in Gay Head, a town on Martha’s Vineyard and the tribe’s home base, establishing a performing arts center, and possibly developing a resort hotel complex.

Neither Widdiss nor NYNEX officials would disclose the exact amount of the settlement but Widdiss said, ″It’s in the millions of dollars.″

The Wampanoags began looking at the possibility of running a cellular phone service in 1987 as a way to generate revenue for the tribe. While the tribe itself has no equipment or particular expertise in the field, the Wampanoags had agreed to work with a cellular phone company based in Hartford, Conn., Message Center Management. The Hartford firm also got an undisclosed percentage of the settlement, Widdiss said.

Permits to operate cellular phone service are awarded by the Federal Communications Commission. Each region of the country is divided into service areas and the FCC awards a license to one company for each area.

Wednesday’s announced settlement came just before the FCC was to conduct a lottery in which one of the competing companies would be chosen. Once selected, a company would still have to pass further government hurdles before winning a license.

With the announcement of the settlement, the drawing for the Cape Cod region was canceled.

NYNEX is the largest cellular phone service provider in New England, operating in regions extending from southern New Hampshire to Worcester, Mass., and Rhode Island.

Widdiss said the possibility of winning a cash settlement from a competitor ″was part of the strategy″ from the beginning when the tribe first sought to run the cellular service.

About 280 Wampanoag Indians live on Martha’s Vineyard and the tribe is renting office space in the town of Gay Head. About 250 acres of land have been put into federal trust for a reservation where the Indians can build homes.

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