July 21, 2008

Navajo Satellite Crisis: Bush Asked to Intervene

The head of the Navajo Nation today appealed to President Bush to intervene to prevent the imminent shutdown of satellite communications for the Navajos' entire public safety network.

The shutdown - affecting police, fire, medical and other emergency services for more than 250,000 Navajo spread over 27,000 square miles of territory in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah - is threatened for noon tomorrow by Princeton, NJ-based SES AMERICOM, which provides satellite communications for numerous federal agencies, including the Department of Defense.

The reason given by SES is that it has not been paid from government funds for services already provided to the Navajo. The private company appointed by the Federal Communications Commission to disburse the congressionally mandated funds - the Washington-based Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) - has failed to make the funds available for more than 14 months and has failed to provide any reason for withholding them, despite numerous urgent requests for an explanation, according to Navajo leaders.

Last week, New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici urged FCC chairman Kevin Martin to intervene, telling him that they are "deeply disturbed by this imminent loss of communications service to vital public safety agencies. The situation has become critical and threatens the safety and security of the Nation and its residents."

By Monday, the Navajo had received no indication that the shutdown would be delayed.

In a message to President Bush, Dr. Joe Shirley, Jr., President of the Navajo Nation, said that Washington officials in charge of dispensing the funds appeared "oblivious to the enormous harm they are doing to our Nation, which is out of all proportion to any bureaucratic issues they may have for the delay - which they have not even deigned to explain."

As a result of the USAC's mishandling of the matter, the Navajo Nation is now about to lose its "entire communications network, including its public safety network," Shirley said.

As a result of the non-payment, Navajo libraries have already lost their Internet connection, students have been unable to finish their online courses and studies, and "sadly, Navajo mothers are no longer able to reach out and communicate with their sons and daughters serving with the U.S. forces in Iraq," Shirley said.

He concluded: "Mr. President, I'm sure you agree that this is not the way this country should be doing things. It is not the way Washington is supposed to work. It is terribly unfair to our people, who have few advantages in life and depend greatly on the benefits brought to them by satellite communications. On their behalf, I appeal to you most urgently to use your immense influence to prevent the imminent shutdown of our emergency satellite services and to restore the other needed services."