Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Moving into the 21st Century

On March 25th, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) received the largest broadband infrastructure grant of the total $63 million in grants as announced by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as part of ARRA. In total, ten ARRA investments were made available to help bridge the technological divide, boost economic growth, create jobs, and improve education and healthcare across the country.

NTUA operating in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, received $32.2 million for broadband combined with an additional $13.8 million applicant-provided match to bring high speed affordable broadband services to the Navajo Nation. The funding will be used to deploy 550 miles of new aerial fiber-optic cable and 59 new or modified microwave towers covering 15,000 square miles in three states.

Conditions in the Navajo Nation are very primitive since it is estimated that 60 percent of the residents lack basic telephone service which means that emergency telephone service in the area is very limited. In addition, the proposed service area has significant poverty with high unemployment.

The project expects to directly connect 49 Chapter Houses which serve as community centers for the Navajo population at speeds from 10Mbps to 10 Gbps. Last mile wireless services will be offered at speeds between 1 and 3 Mbps through the project’s wireless partner, Commnet Wireless.

In another important move, the “Indian Health Care Improvement Act” was made permanent on March 23rd. The legislation is the cornerstone legal authority for the provision of healthcare to American Indians and Alaska Natives and is now part of the just signed “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”.

Some of the many legislative benefits will help with hospice, assisted living, long-term care, both home, and community-based care, help to handle reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP by Indian health facilities, and enables the IHS to work with the VA and DOD to be able to share medical facilities and services. The Act also directs the IHS to establish comprehensive behavioral health, prevention, and treatment programs for all Indians.