Five chapters on Navajo Nation are part of pilot project

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SHIPROCK — A pilot project designed to help residents of the Navajo Nation better understand the benefits of high-speed Internet access was launched last week across five chapters.

The Shiprock Chapter, along with the Chinle, Fort Defiance, Kin Dah Lichíí' and Mexican Water chapters in Arizona, were selected to receive computers, software and upgraded Internet connections under the project developed by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Choice NTUA Wireless, Navajo Technical University and the Microsoft Corp.

Through the collaboration, NTUA covered the costs associated with installation, Choice NTUA Wireless provided Internet access, Microsoft donated computers and software, and NTU will provide computer training and technical support.

GreenBridge Computing Inc., a computer technology company in Bellevue, Washington, was contracted by Microsoft to install computer work stations and computing devices, as well as conduct training at the five chapter houses.

The equipment was installed at the Shiprock Chapter house on Thursday.

GreenBridge president David Yunger expressed excitement about the chapter houses gaining access to broadband.

The majority of the world's population lacks access to broadband, he said, adding that Japan, Norway, South Korea and Sweden are the only countries to provide broadband access to the majority of their residents.

In the United States, broadband is not available to more than 50 percent of the population, and the gap increases in rural areas, he said.

"So right now, the Navajo have leapfrogged the rest of the world, including the rest of our country, in broadband access," Yunger said.

He added that by providing access, it opens education, entrepreneurship and self-development opportunities to chapter members.

Shiprock received seven computers last week as part of the project. It was the fourth work location for Yunger and his team.

While at the Kin Dah Lichíí' Chapter in Arizona, Yunger heard from chapter officials that the computers could help tribal police officers file reports and that online courses can help chapter members learn about first aid.

"Anything is possible, basically. We just need to make sure that people have the opportunity to access the things that a lot of us take for granted," Yunger said.

Monroe Keedo, research and development engineer for NTUA, said the project will help the tribal enterprise collect information about the need for high-speed Internet access on the reservation and how chapter members are utilizing the Internet.

There are 110 chapter houses on the Navajo Nation, and Internet access is available at the buildings. But the speed and quality depends on the service provider, Keedo said.

He added the five chapters were selected based on location and accessibility to broadband connectivity.

NTUA is working to secure funding to expand the project to other chapters, Keedo said.

Michele Peterson, community services coordinator for Shiprock, said the chapter was open to the project because it provides computers and online access for chapter members.

The chapter house had computers for the public to use, but the equipment was vandalized and damaged in October 2016, Peterson said.

Participation in the project was supported by chapter officials in a resolution approved last year, and a memorandum of understanding was signed between NTUA and the chapter, she added.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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