William E. Kennard, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
Indian Telecom Training Initiative
St. Paul, Minnesota
September 28, 2000
(as prepared for release)
Thank you for that very generous introduction.
It is a great pleasure to be here today in St. Paul, Minnesota at this historic event – the first conference to bring together the Nation’s tribal leaders to focus on ways to bring telephone service to Indian communities.
We have here today almost 600 attendees, representing approximately 135 Indian tribes, together with many industry organizations and government agencies. President Clinton was so right when he told this conference yesterday that ITTI 2000 is "the next step in narrowing the Digital Divide."
Lone Man, a nineteenth-century Teton Sioux, once said that "in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself." That wise reflection certainly defines this event. Many people came together to make it happen. I thank the many people at the FCC who have worked with Native American leaders and the telecommunications industry in putting this wonderful event together, including the incomparable Jerry Vaughan and his terrific team which includes Ruby Hough, Rachel Kazan, Geoff Blackwell, Nancy Plon and Larry Povich and many others.
I can’t name all of the people who are here from the FCC, but I ask all of you to stand so that we can acknowledge the great work that you have done. These folks are the heart and soul of the FCC. Day in and day, they fight for the public interest. Please join me in thanking them today.
I also thank the many telecommunications companies that worked with us to pull this conference together. ITTI 2000 would not have been possible without the hard work of the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA). So thank you to Dustin Logan, Gina Harrison, Jon Ricker, Ken Levy, and many others for all of your efforts. I also thank Government Service Association (GSA)’s employee association and Norman Wear for helping with the scholarship program.
From the vendor exhibits to the Internet café to the terrific break out sessions, this conference has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Thank you to Pat Rinn, Jennifer Bush and Cecilia Sulhoff for your extraordinary work.
Of course, nothing would have been possible without those Native American leaders who helped shape this conference, particularly J.D. Williams and Karen Buller. We have learned much from your struggles and your successes. So thank you to Belinda Nelson (Gila River), Vernon James (Scatul), Godfrey Enjady (Apache Mescalaro), Jose Matanane (Fort Mojave), and Teresa Hopkins (Navajo).
This conference is the culmination of the work that we have done at the FCC during my tenure as Chairman to close the telecommunications divide between Indian country and the rest of America. Yet it is, in many ways, just the beginning of our work to make sure that no one living in Indian country is left behind in the Information Age.
We began almost three years ago by asking a simple question. Why is it that, on average, 94% of Americans have affordable phone service, but less than 50% of Indians households on tribal lands have a phone? And on some reservations, such as the Navajo reservation, telephone penetration is below 20%? We asked, then we listened. We listened to your stories and your needs. In 1999, I held FCC field hearings to Indian country, the first in FCC history. In these hearings, we heard from tribal leaders as well as carriers.
I will never forget my trip to Gila River last year. I was attending a computer industry conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, with all of the luminaries of the computer industry; people who have earned more in an IPO than the FCC spends in a year - or two.
I was on this panel on broadband and the future of high-speed Internet access. And the irony was that while we sat and debated the future of broadband deployment, less than an hour away, thousands of people on the Gila River Indian Reservation just outside of Scottsdale were still waiting for a telephone. So I told these computer folks my story, and I said, if you want to change the future of America, come with me. Come with me to the Gila River Indian Reservation and bring your talent and your energy and your money. Let's make a difference in the lives of those people.
Now, I didn't plan to say this. But, after my speech, people came up to me and said, "Let's go." So we went to the Gila River Indian Reservation. I drove up there like the Pied Piper. I had AT&T and Sun Microsystems, and Lucent, and Nortel and Northpoint all with me. And we met with tribal leaders and their families. We sat in their living rooms as they told me what it means in America today when you do not have a telephone. What it's like when you can't call your child's teacher. Or make a doctor's appointment. Or call an ambulance.
I will never forget those stories.
And I will never forget the testimony of one tribal leader, Arthur Chester, a Navajo, at our first field hearing in New Mexico. He testified that over the years, he has seen many federal officials come to Indian country and hold hearings, conduct inspections, speak gravely and promise change. Then he never saw or heard from them again. I‘ll never forget his moving testimony. Later, I read the writings of the Indian wise man, Shinguaconse, who also spoke of broken promises when he said, "I would have been better pleased if such promises were not made than that they should be made and not kept."
Well, we resolved to keep our promises. So we listened, we learned, and then we went to work. I want to tell you about some of the things that we have done to keep our promises.
I believe that the most important thing that we have done is to adopt a policy statement that embraces tribal sovereignty, the federal trust responsibility to the tribes and Indian self-governance. The FCC is one of two federal agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency being the other – which has recognized tribal sovereignty. We at the FCC promise to honor your fundamental right to self-governance, and we adopted this statement to ensure that this right is always respected and never infringed upon by the Commission.
It is this mutual respect that is the foundation of our new relationship with the Indian people and the framework for the many policies that we have adopted to bring technology to Indian country.
Working within that framework, we have adopted many new rules and policies to fulfill our responsibility to tribal governments.
In June of this year, we adopted new universal service programs that will substantially reduce the price of basic local phone service for low-income customers on tribal lands. In so doing, we increased the dollar amount of the subsidy for low-income households and broadened the definition of "low-income" to include more Americans.
And we have enhanced two federal universal programs specifically designed to provide financial assistance to low-income telephone subscribers and ensure that all low-income Americans – particularly low-income Native Americans -- can afford telephone service: Link-Up and Lifeline.
Link-Up America helps qualified low-income consumers to hook up to the telephone network. This federal program offsets one-half of the initial hook-up fee, up to $30.00, for qualified households. The program also includes a plan to encourage local telephone companies to offer low-income telephone subscribers a deferred payment schedule for these charges. In addition, low-income consumers on tribal lands will be eligible for additional support of 100% of the charges over $60.00 and up to $130.00 (a maximum of $70 in additional support).
The Lifeline Assistance Program provides qualified telephone subscribers with discounts on monthly charges, including a waiver of the federal subscriber line charge (up to $4.35 per month), $1.75 per month in all jurisdictions that permit this, and an additional reduction in matching federal funds (up to $1.75 per month). In addition, low-income consumers on tribal lands will be able to receive up to $25.00 per month in discounts (up to $32.85 in total monthly support), to bring basic monthly rates on tribal lands down to $1 per month in most cases.
Last week Verizon announced that every Native American on tribal lands in its territory who meets the means test can have phone service for $1.00 per month. I thank Verizon for being the national leader on this program, and for that company’s terrific support for this conference.
We have also worked to streamline the process for receiving universal service support for companies who seek to serve tribal lands as an eligible telecommunications carrier.
And we changed our auction rules to provide greater incentives for wireless carriers to serve tribal lands. Now, anyone with a wireless license overlapping Indian Country is eligible to receive Tribal Land Bidding Credits. With these credits, money spent by the license holder in connecting Indian lands will be deducted from the auction price. This bidding credit program provides significant new incentives for wireless companies to extend their service areas throughout Indian Country.
We have are also encouraging wireless coverage on Native American lands by granting relief on such regulatory matters as power and antenna characteristics, tower placement and width of spectrum bands. We will waive these rules on a case-by-case basis to ease access to the Native American market.
And we have taken important steps to bring the Internet to the classrooms for all of our nation’s schoolchildren. Through the leadership of President Clinton and Vice-President Gore, we have already wired 95% of the nations schools – and over one million American classrooms -- to the web. Our e-rate program has invested $6 billion dollars in this effort over the last three years. Our task now is to ensure that every school in Indian country is wired to the Internet.
We have done much in the last three years, but there is much more to be done. We have created important new tools, but it is up to you to use them. Use them aggressively for the benefit of the Indian people.
Do what Pat Goff has done. Pat is a schoolteacher from rural Humboldt County, Nevada. When he saw that there was no way to access the Internet from his town, he didn’t wait for telecom companies to build out to him. He took matters into his own hands.
After seeking out and obtaining some grant money, Pat created a computer lab for his students at McDermott Combined School to access the Internet. Then, with the help of Intellicom, he set up his own ISP - the Humboldt Internet Provider, or HIP. HIP is now run by students at McDermott and is available to everyone in the community and neighboring counties.
And he hasn’t stopped there. Using award money he recently won from America Online, Pat has purchased more computers for the town library and a wireless system to connect them to the Internet.
Singlehandedly, Pat has brought the Internet and its vast wealth of information to his remote community. I salute him for his vision, his initiative and his effort. Pat is here today. He is an inspiration. Pat, please stand so we can thank you for your good works.
This conference has been a wonderful opportunity for us to learn from Pat and the many others here who are working to bring phone service to Indian country – pioneering new strategies, taking risks, uplifting whole communities.
This conference is an important start. And I am so pleased to hear many of you already making plans for ITTI 2001.
You know, some people have asked me why I have devoted so much of the FCC’s attention and resources to bringing phone service to Indian country. My answer is simple: the law requires it.
The very first section of the Communications Act of 1934 -- the law that created the FCC and established its mission -- directs the FCC to ensure affordable telephone service for all Americans regardless of race. This is the fundamental mandate of the FCC. It’s the law. It’s been the law for 65 years and it must be enforced. You must insist that it be enforced. And you must insist that it be enforced with a sense of urgency.
You must insist on this from me and from every succeeding chairman of the FCC. You must insist that your voices are heard. You must insist on an institutional commitment from the FCC. You must insist that you get as much attention at the FCC as the armies of industry lobbyists there.
In that regard, I am pleased to announce today that Geoff Blackwell will be our new FCC liaison to tribal governments. Geoff will ensure that your voices are heard at every level of the FCC.
In the last three years, we have made important progress toward making the promise of the law a reality. And beyond all of the new rules and policies, the most important thing we have done is to create a new sense of urgency about enforcing the law.
But we have just begun. There is much work ahead. But together, I am confident that we can make sure that the Indian people are not stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide . . . that they are not trapped in the dark ages as the rest of America charges ahead into a bright digital future.
Together, we can make sure that the first Americans on this continent are not the last Americans to enjoy the wonders of the Internet.
Together we can do this. Together, we will.