Remote Navajo community gets connected

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Thanks to voice-over-IP phones, residents of one of the most remote parts of the Navajo Nation are finally connected to the rest of the world in the first phase of a reservationwide Internet project.

Harold Skow, information technology director for the nation, said that until last month, residents in and near White Rock Chapter House, located 160 miles northwest of here, had to drive 6 miles on dirt roads to use the nearest pay phone.

The Navajo Nation considered extending that phone line to White Rock, Skow said, but abandoned that idea when costs came in at about $100,000 for a line that would not provide a broadband connection.

Instead, Skow said, he decided to use a 75-mile microwave connection to provide a range of Internet services such as phones, videoconferencing and Wi-Fi access points. “We wanted the most cost effective way to provide Internet to the hogan,” a Navajo home, Skow said.

Skow turned to a variety of industry partners for help with the project. For example, Cisco Systems provided routers and its VOIP CallManager equipment to support the phone service.

Joseph Ochoa, Cisco’s federal civilian account manager for Arizona, said the CallManager is located in Window Rock, Ariz., the Navajo Nation’s capital, and supports the use of Cisco 7940 and 7940G VOIP phones at White Rock.

Routers installed in White Rock and the microwave link also support Internet access, which is important to the education of Navajo children, said New Mexico Sen. Leonard Tsosie, who championed the project.

Tsosie, who represents the Navajo Nation in the New Mexico Legislature, said one reason Navajo children score low on state tests is because of lack of access to technology. The White Rock installation is the first step toward closing that technology gap, he added.

Skow said Tsosie pushed him to provide a wide range of Internet services to White Rock first because it is the most remote of any of the chapter houses and residents in the 27,000-square-mile reservation, which spans Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Skow said he met Tsosie’s challenge in three months, proving that it is feasible to extend Internet services to all 250,000 residents of the Navajo Nation.

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