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PROMOTING DEPLOYMENT / SUBSCRIBERSHIP IN UNDERSERVED AREAS, INCLUDING TRIBAL AND INSULAR AREAS
A part of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) mission is to ensure that telecommunications services are available to "all the people" of the United States. While much of the Nation enjoys access to these services, many individuals on tribal lands do not. To fulfill the Commission’s basic mission and to remedy the problem of limited availability of basic phone service on tribal lands, in addition to today’s rulings, the FCC has undertaken the following initiatives:
BACKGROUND OF ITEM
- The FCC held two public hearings, attended by all Commissioners, addressing the problems of underservice on Indian reservations. The hearings, entitled "Overcoming Obstacles to Telephone Service for Indians on Reservations" were held on January 29, 1999 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico and on March 23, 1999 at the Gila River Indian Community in Chandler, Arizona.
- The FCC will present a comprehensive educational seminar September 25 - 28, 2000 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Indian Telecom Training Initiative (ITTI 2000), will provide information to help tribal governments make decisions about telecommunications services for tribal residents and to increase their options for finding telecommunications service solutions.
OVERVIEW OF ITEM
- On September 3, 1999, the Commission issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (CC Docket No. 96-45) asking for comments on various initiatives to encourage the extension of wireline service to tribal lands and other unserved areas. Additionally, the Notice sought comment on proposals to expand universal service support for all telecommunications carriers, whether wireline, terrestrial wireless, or satellite, that serve these areas.
CURRENT PROGRAMS TO PROMOTE AFFORDABLE PHONE SERVICE
- The 12th Report and Order, Memorandum Opinion and Order, and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, does the following:
- adopts measures to promote telecommunications infrastructure deployment and subscribership on tribal lands, including both Indian reservations and Alaskan Native lands;
- considers issues relating to designation of carriers as eligible to receive universal service support; and,
- addresses a number of pending petitions, consistent with the framework established in the Order.
CHANGES TO CURRENT PROGRAMS
- There are two federal universal service programs that provide financial assistance to low-income telephone subscribers and ensure that low-income Americans can afford telephone service. These two programs are available to qualifying consumers, and consumers should contact their local telephone company or their state regulatory agency to determine whether or not they qualify for financial assistance under these programs.
- Link-Up America helps qualified low-income consumers to connect, or 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.
- The Lifeline Assistance Program provides a waiver of the federal subscriber line charges (currently $3.50) for qualified telephone subscribers, and, depending on the actions by state authorities, an additional reduction in a qualified subscriber's local phone bill of up to $3.50 per month in certain states. Thus, the maximum, federal lifeline assistance support per month for any subscriber is $7.00.
- These two programs amount to approximately $550 million a year.
- $500 million for Lifeline; $50 million for Link Up.
- 5.3 million Americans receive Lifeline service; 2.1 million Americans receive Link Up service.
- These programs are part of the Universal Service Fund, and funding is assessed on carriers’ interstate and international end-user telecommunications revenues.
- The order increases the discount off the local phone bill that eligible low-income consumers on tribal lands can receive under the current federal Lifeline program by $25. Under the new rules, carriers may receive between $30.25 - $32.85, depending on various factors such as state matching. As a result, depending on their current rate levels, most customers will receive basic local phone service for $1 a month; all customers should see service under $10 a month.
- The order increases the assistance available for the costs of initiating service provided under the current Link Up program by $70 to a total of $100 per customer. This will reduce the initial connection charges and line extension costs associated with initiating phone service to income eligible customers on tribal lands.
- Broadens the consumer qualification criteria for Lifeline and Link Up so that income-based programs in which low-income tribal members are more likely to participate in are included.
- Lifeline and Link Up funding will increase by approximately $28-$35 million with today’s rulings.
- Assuming carriers’ pass on the increased assessment, the estimated impact due to programs’ expansion will be about 1 cent on a $25 long distance bill.
BACKGROUND OF WIRELESS ITEM
- In the U.S., 94% of households have telephone service.
- On Indian reservations, 47% of households have telephone service.
- On the Navajo reservation, only 22% of households have telephone service.
- Number of tribal households – 453,269
On August 18, the Commission issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (WT Docket No. 99-266) asking for comments on ways wireless and satellite technology can be used to provide basic telephone service and other telecommunications services to tribal lands, particularly in remote areas where alternatives could be significantly less expensive than wireline service. The FCC also sought comment on how to provide greater incentives for terrestrial and satellite wireless carriers to extend service on tribal lands. In addition, the FCC sought comment on whether to extend any terrestrial or satellite wireless initiatives adopted in this proceeding to individuals living in other unserved areas.
SUMMARY OF WIRELESS ITEM
- The Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would do the following:
- Set forth policies and rules aimed at providing incentives for wireless telecommunications carriers to serve individuals living on tribal lands --- including possible changes to geographic license areas and the establishment of tribal land bidding credits for future auctions.
- Address and seek comment on possible changes to the FCC’s technical and operational rules to encourage deployment of wireless services to tribal communities.