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Oct. 10, 2001 Alaska Newspapers Inc. calls for FCC allowances in rural communications

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2001

The Federal Communication Commission doesn't have an easy job in Alaska, where the state's geographic vastness and diversity can be a communications nightmare.

But the commission can improve life in dozens of rural communities with only slight changes to rules better suited for the Lower 48.

To begin with, the FCC can increase Internet use in Bush villages by letting residents use the local school's Internet access during non-school hours. To do so, the commission needs to merely approve a waiver requested by Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.

Under the ''e-rate program,'' the FCC already spends millions of dollars a year to connect public schools to the Internet. But when the school closes for the day, so does the option for free Internet access.

According to a study by the Denali Commission last year, 164 villages cannot reach the Internet through local dial-up Internet service.

The consequences of decreased Internet use, of course, are limited economic and educational opportunities, and an increased social divide between urban and rural residents.

The commission should also continue to allow KPEN-FM and KWVV-FM (K-WAVW) to continue broadcasting in Seward.

The FCC has ordered KPEN and KWVV, broadcast from Homer, to shut down repeater transmitters in several locations, including Kenai, Soldotna and Kodiak. The commission has said the radio stations have an unfair marketing advantage over small local stations. Station owner Dave Becker said he is operating legally, and will not shut the repeaters down.

The FCC hasn't ordered repeaters in Seward off the air, but Becker believes it's only a matter of time.

KPEN and KWVV have long provided a valuable resource in Seward, and residents and businesses are better off because of it.

When avalanches blocked the Seward Highway and isolated Seward from the rest of the world almost two winters ago, KPEN and KWVV provided the only source of minute-by-minute news. The stations also offer valuable Kenai Peninsula-wide information that a local station cannot.

Moreover, local commercial stations in Seward, when they exist, have had a spotty record, angering advertisers and listeners with unreliable service.

The challenges the FCC faces in Alaska also are great opportunities. The commission should allow a waiver to the e-rate program. And continue to let KPEN and KWVV operate in Seward.

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