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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (August 26, 2002 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---An agreement signed in Majuro will lead to the first earth stations for telephone communication on two remote islands in the Marshall Islands.

The agreement will turn over US$ 350,000 from the Marshall Islands government to the National Telecommunications Authority to install and operate earth stations on Jaluit and Wotje atolls, both rural sub-centers with public high schools.

The funding is being provided to National Telecommunications Authority in exchange for 29,167 shares.

Ministry of Transportation Secretary Jorelik Tibon and Assistant Attorney General Moses Gago joined with National Telecommunications Authority General Manager Alan Fowler in the signing ceremony.

National Telecommunications Authority intends to start work shortly on Jaluit and Wotje and also on Kili Island, home of the displaced Bikini Islanders. This is funded independently of the government-funded projects at Wotje and Jaluit, according to Fowler.

"This is a big step for telecommunications in the outer islands," Fowler said.

Currently, the only way to communicate with the dozens of inhabited islands that are scattered over 750,000 square miles of ocean area in the Marshall Islands is by high frequency radio or by satellite telephone links. The satellite links cost US$ 4 or more per minute.

Tibon said "this is the beginning of telecommunications in the outer islands. First are these two atolls, then others will follow as money is available."

The earth stations will allow telephone communication to Jaluit, Wotje and Kili just as residents in the two urban communities of Majuro and Ebeye currently communicate.

Fowler said that there will be "phone centers" on each island, no telephone lines to individual homes. Each island will have three voice lines and one data line.

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Marianas Variety.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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