Wireless Internet access now is available to remote areas of the Navajo, Hopi and Havasupai reservations.
By the end of last week, the pilot project began providing high-speed Internet service to all 110 Navajo Nation Chapter Houses, to the Hopi Police Department and to the Havasupai Tribe.
In a project whose parties were brought together by Northern Arizona University, each site will receive small-dish satellite equipment, including a single computer, monitor and two-way Internet service through StarBand in league with EchoStar and Microsoft.
Many of these sites have limited telephone service.
In cooperation with the General Services and Community Services divisions of the Navajo Nation and the two agencies' work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, each chapter house also will receive two additional computers to be networked through StarBand equipment.
Ed Groenhout, vice president for Strategic Initiatives at NAU, was lamenting the high cost of providing VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) satellite systems to the remote areas of Arizona.
NAU has long been a national leader in providing distance learning opportunities through interactive television, web-based courses, NAU Online and Universityhouse, NAU's satellite course delivery system on EchoStar and the Dish Network.
"I had come to conclude that it would be unrealistic to expect the extension of high bandwidth, wireline service over significant distance," Groenhout said. "If it hadn't been for the Universal Service Fund established through a tax on inter-exchange carriers, much of the rural Rocky Mountain west wouldn't be underserved, it would be unserved."
The Navajo Nation's Seba Dalkai Boarding School, serving as the leader of the Southwest Navajo Nation Virtual Alliance, already had received a grant for six stations with wireless Internet service. But the cost to connect the six sites was no less than $15,000 for equipment and $780 per month for only six hours per day of Internet service.
Through an association contact, Groenhout called Nick Putz, director of strategic business relationships at StarBand, formerly known as Gilat.
When Groenhout explained to Putz the distance and cost dilemma, Putz wanted to know more. After Groenhout sent specifics, Putz couldn't wait to see how the project would work for Indian nations.
Upon meeting with Kyril Calsoyas of Seba Dalkai Boarding School, Putz soon expanded the entire scope of the project. All 110 chapter houses will have wireless Internet service 24 hours a day for the same amount of the original grant as well as three years of cost-free access.
Funding provided by the NAU Foundation paid for the Havasupai sites and for the First Mesa Hopi Police Department. Prior to installation, the Hopi Police Department was not even able to access the National Crime Information Computer of the FBI, and connecting to the computer was the first use of the high-speed Internet service.
"If it weren't for the NAU staff, including the Institute for Native Americans, the wheels could have come off of this project at any time," Groenhout said.
If a chapter house wants to include direct-broadcast satellite programming provided by EchoStar/Dish Network, the monthly cost depends on the package purchased, such as America's Top Forty, which includes NAU's Universityhouse Channel.
Sally Tilousi is director for Havasupai Head Start. The 500-member Havasupai Tribe lives in the bottom of the Grand Canyon on a 500-acre reservation.
She said the new service will allow her tribe to pursue resources previously unavailable.
"This satellite system represents a turning point for our tribe," she said. "It will allow us to have communication with the outside world. It will allow us to communicate with school systems and will provide our tribal members the opportunity to earn their college degrees.
"These satellite dishes are going to change and improve our tribe and open the door to unlimited educational opportunities," Tilousi said.
In October, StarBand will begin making its wireless Internet systems available through retail outlets to anyone from anywhere with a view to the south.
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