FCC report shows rise in telephone service
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TUESDAY, MAY 13, 2003

Telephone service in Indian Country has improved over the past decade, according to a new study from the Federal Communications Commission.

Based on data from the 2000 Census, the FCC found that the majority of homes on reservations and trust lands have basic service. Although the numbers varied widely from state to state and from tribe to tribe, the average rate was 68 percent.

This represented a significant jump from 1990, when less than half of homes in Indian Country had telephone service. "Through its regulations and policy initiatives, the FCC will continue its endeavors to work with federally-recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages to ensure that tribes and persons residing on tribal lands have access to telecommunications and information services," the FCC said in a statement accompanying the May 5 report.

Despite the improvements, American Indians still trail the rest of the country when it comes to the digital divide. The FCC report showed that 83 percent of homes nationwide had telephone service.

Even on reservations and trust lands, non-Indian homes are more likely to have telephone service than Indian homes, the report found.

The disparities were most evident in rural areas of Indian Country. On the Navajo Nation, which spans the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, only 37 percent of 45,623 Indian homes had telephone service.

In comparison, 55 percent of all homes in Arizona, 65 percent in New Mexico and 83 percent in Utah had service.

Of the reservations examined in the report, the Goshute Reservation in Utah and Nevada, with 32 Indian homes, had the worst telephone penetration rate -- 9.4 percent.

The Yurok Reservation in California, with 192 Indian homes, also had a lower than average rate of 39 percent. Non-Indian homes on the reservation, on the other hand, were more likely to have service.

But for a large number of reservations, telephone service was well above the Indian Country average of 68 percent. Many showed rates in the 80 percent range and higher.

Historically, telephone service has been limited in Indian Country due to lack of infrastructure and an unwillingness to change it. It can cost thousands of dollars to run new lines to reservation homes.

Even when service is available, the price can be prohibitive to Indian customers. Two FCC programs, known as Lifeline and Link Up, offer discount telephone service to qualified homes in Indian Country.

The report released last week did not examine telephone rates in Alaska Native villages. Only the Annette Reservation in Alaska was considered.

Get the Report:

Relevant Links:
Indian Initiatives, FCC -
The Digital Divide Network -

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