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Access 9 August 2018

Building Connectivity Across 27,000 Square Miles

In November 2017, the Internet Society hosted the inaugural Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The event brought together community network operators, Internet service providers, community members, researchers, policy makers, and Indigenous leadership to work together to bridge the connectivity gap in indigenous communities in North America. One of the participants shared her story.

The Navajo Nation spans over 27,000 square miles across three states, making it the largest indigenous nation in the United States, in both geographic area and population. With such a sizable landmass, network building can face significant challenges.

“Infrastructure and coverage are tricky because of the way that the Navajo Nation is surrounded by highways and railways but none really cross through,” says Sylvia Jordan, Principal IT for the Navajo Nation Division of Community Development. “We are trying to bridge middle mile to last/first mile,” says Jordan, “while maintaining affordability for communities requesting access.”

The unique geographic features of the area can dictate connection quality in many areas on the Navajo Nation. Jordan explains that the ridge around Black Mesa, which is more than 8,000 feet high, is large enough that service can trickle down to some rural communities in the southern part of the Navajo Nation, whereas the connectivity in other areas of the reservation can vary based on which side of a thoroughfare a person resides.

Internet access is key for Navajo residents, says Jordan. “Building connectivity allows for more opportunities for distance learning and education, remote support assistance, work centers, and economic opportunities for people selling rugs or jewelry,” enabling members of Navajo Nation to stay within their communities, while simultaneously building them up. Jordan is hopeful about the connections and knowledge she has gained at the Indigenous Connectivity Summit, and about the future of connectivity in the communities of the Navajo Nation. “I think it is viable,” says Jordan.  “I think we just need to continue to work at it – and have leadership and motivation to keep moving forward.”

Register for the Indigenous Connectivity Summit 2018, which takes place this October in Edmonton and Inuvik, CanadaYou can also find ever-growing resources on topics including community networks, cultural preservation, and Indigenous-driven access at the Indigenous Connectivity page.

Photo ©Minesh Bacrania

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