September 29, 2010

Udall, Genachowski: New ABQ-Based Pilot Program Will Improve Health Care Communications in Rural Native Communities

2,000 Donated Cell Phones will Connect Patients with Providers

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski today unveiled a new Albuquerque-based pilot program that will supply up to 2,000 satellite phones to the Indian Health Service (IHS) 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 Reston, Va.-based broadband company LightSquared, which also will provide service free of charge through 2020.

Udall, a member of both the Senate Commerce Committee and Indian Affairs Committee, drew attention to the appalling lack of reliable telephone service on Tribal lands last year in a letter to Genachowski. In that letter, Udall noted that not having access to a landline or cell phone reception can often mean the difference between life and death, and recalled the heartbreaking story of a man outside of Gallup, New Mexico, who missed two opportunities for a life-saving kidney transplant because he lacked telephone service at home and could not be contacted in time.

As a result of that letter, the offices of Udall and Genachowski worked together to develop the pilot project and to secure LightSquared's participation.

"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," Udall said. "I am pleased to join LightSquared and Chairman Genachowski for this exciting announcement. By providing these satellite phones to IHS, we help improve access to health care for Tribal communities currently without telephone service. The bottom line is, this pilot project will help save lives."

"It's unacceptable that Native communities are significantly less connected than any other segment of the population," said Genachowski. "The National Broadband Plan recognized the need for the FCC, Congress, and other key stakeholders to work directly with Tribal governments to promote Tribal connectivity. This pilot program is an important step forward. I applaud LightSquared for the generous donation of devices and services that will bring 21st Century mobile health to hospitals, health centers, and field clinics in Native communities."

At the suggestion of Udall, the FCC - under the direction of Genachowski - recently established an Office of Native Affairs and Policy, which will work to promote the deployment and adoption of communications services and technologies throughout Tribal Lands and Native communities. This includes, among other things, ensuring robust government-to-government consultation with Tribal governments and increased coordination with Native organizations.