Navajo officials have a vision that one day students on the vast reservation can do school work on laptops during bus rides home and that making a phone call won’t mean walking miles to the nearest chapter house.
The vision starts on the eastern edge of the reservation in New Mexico through initiatives known as the Internet to the Hogan and Dine Grid.
The Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint is working with staff at the University of California-San Diego’s supercomputer center to develop a wireless grid on the reservation.
The first phase calls for building a network that could hook into the national LambdaRail –an ultrahigh-speed network used by the University of New Mexico and other schools — and take advantage of another next-generation network known as Internet 2.
An extended system of broadband towers would then allow schools, medical clinics, hospitals and homes within a 15- to 30-mile radius of Navajo chapter houses to be connected.
“There’s all kinds of applications,” said Tom Davis, dean of instruction at Navajo Technical College.
Officials dedicated and blessed the first tower in a ceremony at the college Monday.
They also accepted a mini supercomputer known as a Little Fe from TeraGrid, a cyber infrastructure that links supercomputers from the San Diego center and elsewhere for scientific research.
Jared Ribble, a 22-year-old Navajo Technical College student, spent some time at the center learning about the system.
“Helping us put the Dine on the grid and bringing the Internet to the hogan gives us a wealth of opportunities,” he said in a statement. “The addition of Little Fe will enable complex research projects to be conducted anywhere on the grid. A small tribal college can now have the research capabilities of a major university.”
Developing a wireless grid on the Navajo Nation could take years, and those working on the project could face obstacles when trying to erect towers around the reservation.
Navajo Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie, a supporter of the Internet to the Hogan project, said key locations for the towers would be on mountains or hills that some clans consider sacred.
“We’ll work with communities, making sure this will be culturally sensitive, to make sure we’re not building on a sacred site,” Tsosie said. “And if we are, to get permission and figure out a way to bring things back into harmony after construction if we have no course but to use that particular high point.”
Any towers planned on allotments would need approval from the owner, and any on trust land would need an OK from the tribe, Tsosie said.
But he added: “I anticipate us not getting to that level.”
The network projects have been funded through grants and donations, Davis said, but he couldn’t provide an estimate on the total cost.
“It depends on how far it goes,” he said.
In addition to closing the digital divide on the Navajo reservation, Davis said: “The long-term goal is that we’ll keep building it out as long as communities or chapter houses within the nation want us to.”
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