Friday, June 20, 2008

Navajo Reservation Still Suffering From Internet Woes

Two months after a dispute over billing caused the satellite Internet provider OnSat to severe service to the Navajo reservation much of the reservation is still without service.

Below is the original newsletter item we ran followed by an update.

Navajo Reservation Loses Internet Access

"The rest of the world just feels this place is unimportant."

On Monday, April 7, 2008, an unbelievable thing happened. Internet service for the entire 27,000 square Navajo Reservation was simply shut off. This was through no fault of the Navajo people.

Below are full details of this event.

I want to add that it so clearly show the vulnerability of disadvantaged people to losing the very societal infrastructure that we take so for granted. It seems inconceivable that such an event could ever happen in say Boston. Surely, a court injunction would have prevented it. Unfortunately, it did happen on the Navajo reservation.

Now, some of the most isolated people in the United States are cut off from the information and communication that is integral to the modern world.

Navajo Nation Loses Internet Access

Navajo Nation residents were left without Internet capability Monday after a dispute over billing caused the Universal Service Administration Co. to cease paying their network provider and their service was simply cut off.

Thousands of residents rely on the Internet to communicate across the 27,000-square mile reservation as well as with the outside world. Work and school are essentially tied to the Internet, and this loss has caused great damage to the Navajo community.

"It's just very frustrating," notes Carla Clauschee, the librarian at Navajo Pine High School in Navajo New Mexico and a reservation resident. "Anyplace else they couldn't get away with it. The rest of the world just feels this place is unimportant. We are talking about a large area from Albuquerque to Flagstaff. We are talking four states including Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. The rest of the world just feels this place is unimportant. It's just very frustrating to me. You want to encourage students to use the Internet to better themselves. There are no newspapers out here. No phone service. What are we supposed to do? Drive 60 miles to the post office? They are depriving the very people who have nothing of the very words that they type."

The Associated Press reported last Friday that the USAC told the tribe that they would be withholding $2.1 million from OnSat, after a tribal audit discovered that OnSat Network Communications Inc. may have double-billed the tribe $470,000 for a month of service. OnSat is refusing to continue service without this payment.

The over 110 chapter houses on the Navajo reservation have all lost their Internet service. The chapter houses are the focal point of each small community. Families gather at their local chapter house for local government meetings, graduation celebrations, and community receptions, and to access the Internet through wireless connections.

Chapter house parking lots that were previously crowded with cars and working people are vacant now that the wireless connection is gone.


I spoke with a reporter at the Navajo Times to get an update on the Internet situation. He explained that while many of the larger chapter houses in areas with more population have managed to switch to alternate Internet providers, the people in more isolated areas are still without service. Unfortunately, there are no other options for these people as there are no land lines serving those areas. Even small satellite dish Internet service, such as that provided by satellite TV providers DIRECTV or Dish Network, requires a land line for the Internet service.

Navajo Pine High School librarian, Carla Clauschee, explained the full impact of the loss of service.

“Unfortunately, those in the most isolated areas feel the loss the most as they rely on the Internet for distance learning programs, to communicate with hospitals, to get their news and information, to sell jewelry and other crafts on Web sites, and for email communication. They are just cut off from the modern world.”

We will keep track of this story and provide updates as we get them.

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