The Navajo Nation will be the beneficiary of $32 million in federal stimulus money for a high-speed Internet network that will cover 15,000 square miles in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The boost hopes to help Navajo residents gain access to high-tech jobs and training which could help eradicate crushing unemployment--jobless rates hover at about 40% on the reservation. Bringing Internet access could also aid in education and keep Navajo youth from leaving the reservation in hopes of better employment opportunities. The system will reach over 30,000 homes and businesses in one of the least infrastructurally developed parts of the country; remarkably, this is a place where 60% of homes don't even have basic telephone service.
Last year, a group from PopTech also focused their attention on the technology divide in the Navajo Nation when testing their solar-powered FLAP bag. As Cordelia Newlin de Rojas wrote in a post for FastCompany.com, the team members noted that most residents, like Clay Bigman, above, lack not only phone service, but also are without power or running water: "With extremely limited economic opportunities, people--particularly elders--continue to live on their families' lands, grazing sheep and horses in order to survive. Yet that choice is a critical one, because remaining on their properties in sparsely populated areas means they forgo access to electricity or indoor plumbing." Perhaps before we introduce Google to the Navajo we should focus on making sure they have a place to plug in their computers.