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August 5, 1999

Separate Statement of
Commissioner Gloria Tristani

Re: Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service: Promoting Deployment and Subscribership in Unserved and Underserved Areas, CC Docket No. 96-45; Extending Wireless Telecommunications Services, WT Docket No. 99-___.

I write separately to underscore my support for these items. Both Notices of Proposed Rulemaking are intended to address and remedy the dearth of telecommunications in Indian country and other unserved and underserved areas. The facts are not in dispute. While Americans on average enjoy a telephone subscribership rate of 94%, many communities and areas throughout the land are not so fortunate. And Indians living on tribal lands are the least fortunate of all. Telephone subscribership rates on tribal lands fall under 50% in many instances and even under 30%, as in the case of the Navajo reservation.

These woeful statistics are not new, and this is not the first time that the federal government and others have taken notice. What is new, is that the Federal Communications Commission has not only taken notice, but is now embarked in taking concrete action to change these statistics. The items ask thoughtful, appropriate and insightful questions, including questions about the scope of the problem, the nature of the federal relationship with tribal sovereign governments, and the extent to which the FCC should act to remedy the problem.

But, more importantly, the items posit concrete suggestions - targeting universal service support, bolstering and/or tailoring the Lifeline and Linkup programs, using alternative technologies -- on how to provide telecommunication services to Indian country and other unserved and underserved communities. These suggestions are good first steps but I hope commentors will not hesitate to suggest any other appropriate and innovative measures.

Finally, while I am proud to support these items, I believe it is our statutory and moral obligation to bring telecommunications to Indian country. Section 254 of the Telecommunications Act mandates that we assure that all Americans have access to telecommunications services. The federal trust relationship between tribal sovereign governments and the federal government suggests that we have an obligation to do even more. But history, notions of equality, and the principles on which this Nation was founded tell us that is unconscionable that Indians, the first Americans, remain the last Americans to enjoy the wonders and benefits of the Information Age. I trust that the small steps we take today will go a long way in changing this picture.