FARMINGTON, N.M. — The Navajo Nation is in the final testing phases of a project that will make wireless Internet available to a majority of people on the vast reservation.
Tribal officials attending the opening of an $8 million commercial data center on Tuesday recalled how a teenage girl who had won a laptop computer in a school contest wasn’t able to connect to the Internet because she had no phone line at home and how residents in isolated communities climb mesas in search of cellphone service.
They opened up a laptop in the northwestern New Mexico community of Shiprock, quickly connected to the Internet and played a video for the audience, the Farmington Daily Times (http://bit.ly/13yPXS0 ) reported. Broadband service soon should be accessible to 30,000 homes, 1,000 business and 1,100 community institutions across the reservation.
“The Navajo Nation, like most rural areas, faces considerable challenges regarding telecommunications services,” said Navajo Tribal Utility Authority general manager Walter Haase. “With the opening of this facility, we have set the stage to allow high-quality, reliable telecommunications and data center services in the Navajo Nation that will enable information and communication flow throughout the region.”
NTUA spokeswoman Deenise Becenti said Wednesday that Internet service will be available to residents later this fall. For now, businesses and organizations that want to rent server capacity from the data center can do so.
The tribal authority partnered with a wholesale wireless provider in 2011 to upgrade telecommunications services on the Navajo Nation. The tribe has majority ownership of the venture, NTUA Wireless LLC., while Commnet Wireless owns the rest. The agreement built on work the two entities did to secure $32 million in stimulus funds for the $46 million high-speed network.
NTUA board chairman Sidney Bob Dietz II was skeptical at first of the Navajo Nation getting into the telecommunications business, but now envisions an economy bolstered by the project that also could provide jobs for Navajo youth. Tribal officials also have been touting anticipated benefits in health care, education and emergency response services.
“We need these things for our young folks,” he said.
The 3G mobile and 4G broadband services was deployed east to west across the reservation through hundreds of lines of new fiber optic cables and dozens of microwave towers. The network blankets almost half of the reservation’s 27,000 square miles.
Becenti said the goal is to further strengthen the network by continuing to build it out and “reach the pockets we didn’t get to.”