Improving Tribal Health Care Through Telecommunications
Most Americans probably cannot imagine life without a telephone. Yet today, more than 30 percent of households in Indian Country do not have access to basic telephone service. The situation is even more appalling on the Navajo Nation, where two out of three people are unable to receive telephone service in their homes.
Living without a phone impacts everything from education to employment to health care. In New Mexico, we saw this first hand when a man outside of Gallup missed two opportunities for a life-saving kidney transplant because he lacked telephone service at home and could not be contacted in time.
In the country that pioneered telecommunications, this is disgraceful.
That's why I sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski last year calling for new ways to bridge the digital divide in Indian Country. The work that we've done together since then has been extremely productive, culminating in an exciting new pilot program.
Today, I proudly joined FCC Chairman Genachowski, LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja and Dr. Theresa Cullen of the Indian Health Service (IHS) to announce a new Albuquerque-based pilot program that will supply up to 2,000 satellite phones to improve communications between rural Native Americans and their health care providers.
The pilot project will initially be based in the Albuquerque area office of IHS, which serves tribal communities in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. The satellite phones will be donated by LightSquared, a Reston, Va.-based broadband company which will also provide service free of charge through 2020.
This program is a crucial step to helping IHS get important health care information to native communities without phones, and also an important part of our larger effort to expand telecommunications on tribal lands.