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Re: Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service; Western Wireless Corporation Petition for Designation as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier for the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Memorandum Opinion and Order, CC Docket No. 96-45.

I dissent from the Commission's determination that the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission lacks jurisdiction to designate Western Wireless as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) in its service to Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Section 214(e)(6) states that the Commission may designate as an ETC "a common carrier providing telephone exchange service and exchange access that is not subject to the jurisdiction of a State commission." 47 U.S.C. 214(e)(6). As the Commission acknowledges, Congress added this provision based on concerns that some Indian controlled carriers had been unable to obtain a forum in which to seek ETC status due to limitations on the jurisdiction of particular State commissions. See Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service; Promoting Deployment and Subscribership in Unserved and Underserved Areas, Including Tribal and Insular Areas, Twelfth Report and Order, Memorandum Opinion and Order, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 15 FCC Rcd 12208, 98 (2000). Congress thus amended the statute to ensure that every carrier has some forum in which to obtain ETC status and thereby receive universal service support. See Pine Ridge Jurisdiction Order 3.

In my view, the Commission has taken a misguided approach to effectuating Congress's intent. Rather than simply ensuring that carriers have a place to go when State commissions or courts conclude that a State lacks jurisdiction, the Commission has made itself the arbiter of competing jurisdictional claims made by States and Indian tribes. The Commission has chosen to displace State claims of jurisdiction based on its own analysis of the merits, using "a complicated and intensely fact-specific legal inquiry informed by principles of tribal sovereignty and requiring the interpretation of treaties, and federal Indian law and state law." Twelfth Report and Order, 15 FCC Rcd 108. The Commission should refrain from making such determinations. As a body devoted to the oversight of our nation's communications, we have neither the experience, skill, nor authority to make these complicated and contentious decisions regarding the power of Indian tribes and States.

Moreover, despite the Commission's best efforts, its decision in this case is fraught with legal and practical problems. Among other things, we have set up a regime in which Western Wireless will receive universal service funding for serving Indians but not non-Indians, even if they live on the same land. This approach conflicts with our statutory obligation to make ETC designations for a particular "service area," which, by statute, "means a geographic area." 47 U.S.C. 214(e)(5). In this case, the Orders even acknowledge that the State has jurisdiction to make the designation with respect to some of the residents within the service area. To the extent the Commission could not lawfully make a designation for the entire geographic area, as its Orders conclude, it bolsters my view that we should not be making designations in such cases at all. Additionally, we have set up a regime in which different carriers serving the same people will be regulated by different entities, depending largely on whether the carrier has "consented to tribal jurisdiction." Pine Ridge Jurisdiction Order 21. This regime will only encourage forum shopping and make impossible any coherent telecommunications policy on the reservation. Finally, in designating Western Wireless as an ETC, we have made a public interest determination that may differ from the one made by the South Dakota Commission, which is in a superior position to assess the relevant local conditions.

I worry that this decision will only encourage more parties to come before the Commission seeking to displace State claims of jurisdiction. While Indian tribes may have legitimate claims of sovereignty in these situations, both they and the States deserve a better forum than this one to resolve their claims. I am convinced that the parties would be far better served by resolving such claims through the legal process in the courts and letting the Commission devote its limited resources to issues of communications. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.