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Life Changes as Telephone Rings in Border Villages
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Thirty-year-old Yesibore used to trek two days on his horse to carry supplies from the city of Tekes to his remote convenience store, but all he needs to do now is dial the supplier's number.

"If I need groceries, they are just a phone call away," said the man, who lives at a remote farm near Tekes county in the northwest part of China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Like Yesibore, thousands of Xinjiang residents are cheering the change in their lives after fixed telephones were installed in their villages.

The regional telecommunications administration announced on Friday that all 8,874 villages in Xinjiang, which accounts for one sixth of China's land area, now have access to fixed telephone services.

At least two fixed telephones have been installed in each village. Both are accessible to all villagers who purchase pre-paid cards to use them. Local residents can also have fixed telephones installed in their homes, said Huang Wenyu, director of the regional telecommunications administration.

Installing telephones has been particularly challenging in Xinjiang, a vast territory of snow-capped mountains, valleys, deserts and grasslands.

To improve communication services in the underdeveloped areas, the Ministry of Information Industry launched a "telephones-for-all-villages" project in 2004, and ancient means of communication like passing oral messages and delivering letters by horse have begun to recede in the westernmost region of China.

Over 540 million yuan (abut US$69 million) has been invested in the installation work. Last year, telephone lines were extended to 1,369 villages, including very secluded hamlets isolated by deserts and heavy snow, according to Huang.

The new telephone services have brought people in Xinjiang, especially herdsmen and farmers in remote villages, much closer to the outside world.

Geminbik, a herdsman in the Altaic mountain area in north Xinjiang, said he can now speak to his daughter, who is studying in a city college, every week. A few months ago, he had to ask folks from a neighboring village with a telephone to take a message.

"The telephone has transformed life for people in Xinjiang," said Huang.

The region now has over 1.53 million fixed telephone subscribers, an increase of 455,000 over the 2004 figure, according to statistics from the regional telecommunications administration.

Nationwide, over 67,000 villages have benefited from the nation's drive to increase telephone coverage in the past three years, according to statistics from the Ministry of Information Industry.

About 98.8 percent of China's villages have access to telephone service now, statistics show.

(Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2007)

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