The Navajo Nation -- composed of 175,000 people scattered across 27,000 square miles in the four corners area of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah -- is making strides to address infrastructure problems, including Internet access. The nation, which last week approved a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to develop the Navajo Nation Integrated Justice Information Sharing Project, is now engaged in closing the digital divide in other ways.

According to a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announcement, at least 60 percent of homes don’t have landline telephone service, wireless signals are spotty or nonexistent, and the 911 system often cannot track the location of callers. Access to wireline broadband Internet access has been available to less than 4 percent of the population. But now The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority ((NTUA) is rolling out a wireless communications system with a $32 million NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant.

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The new 4G LTE network consists of wireless towers, base stations, microwave links, 550 miles of fiber and 20 miles of fiber or microwave connections into buildings, according to the NTIA. BTOP paid for much of that infrastructure, and for leased fiber that connects the Navajo Nation in Farmington, N.M., to Albuquerque and the Internet. The network will offer residential customers speeds up to 3 megabits per second, and will also connect institutions including tribal chapter houses at up to 10 gigabits per second.

Walter Haase, general manager of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, said in the NTIA announcement that the wireless broadband network “opens up a whole new set of opportunities that don’t exist today” for the Navajo Nation, including telemedicine for remote families, online school and university classes, and tribal members can telework or set up online businesses.