By Ofero, Juan
Nation's Cities Weekly , Vol. 23, No. 18
FCC Chairman William Kennard and FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani joined President Clinton last week in Shiprock, N.M., to highlight the need for Native Americans to have access to advanced telecommunications and basic phone service as well. As part of his appearance, President Clinton endorsed a FCC plan to increase the federal Lifeline program to make phone service available to Native Americans for as little as $1 per month.
Lifeline is part of the universal-service program, which lowers the cost of basic telephone service for low-income people. The federally funded program uses state matching grants, but currently states do not provide matching funds for tribal lands. The program, which could cost as much as $90 million would probably increase the amount telecom carriers pay into the fund. Long-distance users could see a 0.4 percent rate increase to generate $17 million annually to subsidize phone service for American Indians. Currently about half of the Native American population lack telephones in a nation where 94 percent of all homes are wired. About 300,000 Indian households will receive basic phone service, which does not cover long-distance calls.
"At a time when 96 percent of Americans have telephone service, only 45 to 55 percent of Indian families have phones. This number drops to one in four on the Navajo reservation. The ability to get advanced telecommunications services is even harder because phone lines on Indian reservations are antiquated," said President Clinton. …