JUNEAU (AP) The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday lifted a ban on long-distance telephone companies constructing satellite earth stations in Bush Alaska.
The new regulations would allow more competition for long distance telephone service in about 150 rural communities served by Alascom earth stations.
Federal regulators said the action could result in lower state-to-state long distance rates and greater service options for customers.
The FCC had prohibited companies from installing or operating more than one satellite earth station to provide long-distance phone service in rural Alaska communities.
The rule was intended to protect AT&T Alascom, which had invested in phone equipment and operated long distance service in underserved rural areas following deregulation, said Agnes Pitts, spokeswoman for the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.
Alascom applauded the FCC ruling, but said other reforms are also needed to improve the climate of competition in rural Alaska.
''At this time, we are still digesting the possible impacts of this order,'' Alascom spokeswoman Liz Kester said in a statement. ''But I do want to emphasize that we support the lifting of the facilities restrictions as part of the broader deregulation that needs to occur.''
The RCA granted GCI a temporary waiver in 1995 to construct satellite earth stations in 50 rural communities and provide in-state long distance service.
Federal regulators granted a similar waiver the following year to provide out-of-state long distance.
GCI had constructed competing earth stations in and around King Salmon, Barrow, Bethel, Dillingham, King Salmon, Kotzebue and Nome, said GCI spokesman David Morris.
Since then, the quality of service improved, some customers were able to use the Internet for the first time and satellite telecommunications was used for ''telemedicine'' and to connect schools and libraries, the FCC said.
State regulators lifted the ban entirely in November 2000, Pitts said. The federal order mirrors the state action.
In its order, the commission found that there is no longer a need to limit Bush communities to an incumbent carrier with a single earth station.
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