Ulmer presses FCC for cheap rural access to Internet

Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer said she got what she expected from the Federal Communication Commission's chairman during a meeting in the capital Thursday: no comment.

Ulmer met with Michael Powell to tell him why she thinks residents of numerous small Alaska villages should be able to get cheap Internet access through their local school or library computers.

''He's at the point of listening,'' Ulmer said of Powell. ''I wasn't discouraged or encouraged, and I expected that.''

Most schools in Alaska benefit from a federal program known as the ''e-rate'' that pays billions of dollars for hardware and Internet connections for schools and libraries.

About $2.25 billion is paid out each year from money collected from phone users, with Alaska schools receiving about $12 million.

Alaska has filed a petition with the FCC asking that people in villages be allowed to sign on to the Internet through their local schools during non-school hours.

The FCC took comments on the state's petition through April 6.

Alaska has 164 villages with no local Internet access, according to a study by the Denali Commission.

''For these villages, it's a real frustration,'' Ulmer said Friday.

Ulmer said she told Powell that rural Alaskans are particularly deserving of some consideration. The Internet can provide educational and information resources that aren't available through any other channel, she said.

''They more than any other people need access to the Internet,'' she said.

The Alaska Telephone Association, however, told the FCC that it believes there are better ways to solve the challenge without hurting the long-term growth potential of private Internet service providers in rural Alaska.

Alaska telephone companies have already provided Internet access to 84 Alaska communities, 31 of which have fewer than 500 people, according to a letter from James Rowe, the ATA's executive director.

ATA members are working on a ''competitively neutral network platform'' that could bring broadband and Internet service to all villages with more than 25 residents, he said.

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