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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, May 24) - Family members and friends residing in the U.S. mainland will find calling American Samoa cheaper than ever, thanks to the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Effective tomorrow, calls originating from the United States and its territories will be billed at the same rate as domestic calls placed from those areas.

This is a result of an order by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requiring that all U.S. long distance carriers provide services in each state (including territories) at rates no higher than the rates they charge to their subscribers in any other state (or territory).

The U.S. long distance companies were given a year to integrate their rates; the final deadline is May 25, 2007.

Gwen Tauiliili-Langkilde, attorney for American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority (ASTCA), explained that the change in federal law came about in 1996 (commonly known as the 1996 Telecommunications Act), and it required, among other things, that U.S. long distance companies integrate their rates by May 25, 2007.

For example, she said the Act required that a company like Sprint charge its customer dialing from California to Hawaii (2,500 miles away) the same rate it charged that customer to call from California to Nevada, across the border.

At the time, however, U.S. long distance companies requested that the requirement to integrate their rates to include such offshore points as American Samoa be delayed until such time as American Samoa implement certain measures to facilitate their own ability to integrate their rates to American Samoa.

The FCC temporarily suspended the requirement with respect to rates U.S. long distance companies charge for calls to American Samoa and encouraged American Samoa to file a rate integration plan.

In response, the American Samoa Government filed a rate integration plan with the FCC in 1997. Tauiliili-Langkilde said the plan described how ASG would delineate the functions of the Office of Communications (such as establishing ASTCA with its separate long distance and local divisions, which would then work to gradually integrate its outbound rates to all U.S. territories and states as well as meet the requirements to allow U.S. long distance companies to do the same).

Tauiliili-Langkilde said that in the past ten years, ASTCA's lowest long distance rates for outbound telephone calls from American Samoa to the U.S. have decreased from 70-cents a minute in 1996 to 45 cents a minute in 1997 to ASTCA's current rate of 15 cents a minute.

"ASTCA also worked to meet the other goals outlined in ASG's 1997 Rate Integration Plan in order to facilitate U.S. long distance companies in integrating their rates to American Samoa," explained ASTCA's attorney.

In addition, Tauiliili-Langkilde said ASTCA joined and became a member of NECA (an arm of the FCC); joined the North American Numbering Plan (NANP); implemented Feature Group D and equal access in ASTCA's local switching office; established interconnection and resale agreements w/other long distance companies; and filed local tariffs.

On May 25, 2006, the FCC finally approved ASG's Plan, having determined that ASG and ASTCA met all the requirements of the Plan to facilitate U.S. long distance companies' ability to integrate their rates to American Samoa.

The FCC lifted the suspension and gave U.S. long distance companies a year to integrate their rates.

Tauiliili-Langkilde said there will no changes for calls from American Samoa to the mainland, as American Samoa long distance companies, including ASTCA, already comply with the Act in that their rates to states and territories are uniform.

She said family members in the U.S. may be made aware that their long distance calls to American Samoa should be charged the domestic rate of that state when calling from U.S. mainland to American Samoa.

About a year ago when this was first announced, Governor Togiola said it was wonderful news "especially for our families, students, men and women in uniform and businesses calling American Samoa."

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