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Navajo Man, Committee Work to Improve Phone Service on Reservation

Navajo Man, Committee Work to Improve Phone Service on Reservation



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John Hollenhorst ReportingYou may not think of it this way, but having a phone can sometimes be a matter of life and death.

A Navajo man who lost a relative because she had no phone is hoping to bring that modern convenience to his ancestral homeland.

The Navajo reservation isn't the only place in southeastern Utah with poor phone service. But it's clearly the place with the deepest problems, where many families have no utilities at all.

About 400 Utah Navajo families have no phone, no electricity, no running water. That's become a big issue for Tom Lovell. He was born Navajo, adopted by a white family and is now a successful Idaho businessman.

A few months ago his cousin in Monument Valley was badly burned while cooking dinner outside a hogan.

Tom Lovell, Idaho businessman: "Had a seizure and fell into the fire. Well most of us, we have an accident like that, and we can call 911. We can call some help.

With no phone she sat in agony for nearly a day. Eventually she was flown to a hospital, too late to save her.

Tom Lovell: "She would have been able to have been saved. She was only 61. So I'm sure that's not the only incident like that that's happened."

Lovell's plans are unspecific, but he hopes to work with the Navajo Nation to provide phone service to far-flung areas.

San Juan County official Charlie DeLorme is moving on a separate track.

Charlie DeLorme, economic development director for San Juan County: "Well we do feel like we've fallen off the edge of the map at times."

He organized a committee of government and business to improve phone and Internet service for the whole county.

Charlie DeLorme: "Out of the 29 counties in Utah, I think we're probably near the bottom for telecommunications development."

Tom Lovell doesn't seem to trust the committee, and DeLorme is wary of him.

Tom Lovell: "The meetings have been going on for the last 35 years, as far as I know. OK, the need's there. We need to do something."

Charlie DeLorme: "The two meetings I've called, we've had excellent attendance. Unfortunately, Tom was not able to attend either of those. Again, I'm very encouraged by the partnership that people are looking towards forming."

Lovell says the State of Utah has a responsibility to provide funding.

Tom Lovell: "But there is private funding. I had a chance to meet with Bill and Melinda Gates. I know that their heart-- once we tell them what's there-- their heart will be there. It will be an opportunity to get this done."

A big complication is that many Navajos may not want utilities, preferring to live "the old ways." Even the cousin who died, Lovell says, had power and phone lines nearby. He's not sure if she ever wanted modern utilities.

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