Cellular towers on way for rez

By Carolyn Calvin
Navajo Times

 WINDOW ROCK, Feb. 3, 2011

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It's been 16 years since CellularOne built its first cell tower on the Navajo Nation and Margie Lewis, Cellular One sales and marketing director, said "nothing is the same today" about the wireless phone provider.

"CellularOne currently operates over 100 towers, which support the Navajo Nation," Lewis said.

The cellular service provider's coverage includes all major population areas on the Navajo Nation as well as most of the major drive routes and surrounding communities, providing service to more than 100,000 customers.

Part of CellularOne's recent efforts to improve their network include the completion and activation of 10 cellular sites including six in Arizona - Rock Point, Chilchinbito, Tolani Lake, Sweetwater, Sawmill, Hunter's Point - and four in New Mexico - Farmington, Bloomfield, Vanderwagon, and Burnham.

In 2011, there are 11 new sites scheduled for completion and activation for the network. Nine are slated for the Navajo Nation including Toyei, Klagetoh, Rapple Ridge, Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, Jeddito, Cottonwood, Blue Gap and Nageezi.

Lewis said there are a few areas in the interior of the Navajo Nation where the cellular phone provider is looking to improve coverage including the Eastern Navajo Agency.

More improvements are on the way, Lewis said explaining that adding cellular towers is an involved process and takes about 18 months.

Some of the steps CellularOne must take include seeking consent from chapters where cell phone towers will be located, and obtaining site maps and land surveys. It also has to notify the Federal Aviation Administration and test the ground for oil and weight and tower capabilities. Shortly thereafter a license is sought from the Federal Communications Commission.

"We also constantly look to improve the quality of the sites that are now on the air," Lewis said. "Improvements are being made all the time by making test calls and responding to customer feedback."

Lewis said CellularOne is committed to bringing new technology to its customers.

"Faster data speeds are certainly the future and what most customers want," she said.  "We are currently engineering our path to providing faster data services to the Navajo Nation and look forward to delighting our customers with a great experience."

"This was a daunting task," said Monroe Keedo, NTUA's telecommunications manager. "We are in a region where obtaining an EA is not a simple assignment."

But NTUA got it done, and staff also managed to secure the formal right-of-way approvals for the first phase of the project - an equally daunting task. The 600-plus page environmental assessment was completed in August and turned over to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

On Nov. 1 the U.S. Department of the Interior issued a formal finding of "no significant impact," the green light needed for NTUA to proceed with the project.

"We understand that nothing of this scale has ever been attempted and achieved in such a short amount of time," Keedo said.

In November, NTUA awarded several contracts totaling about $8 million for equipment. The materials, which include fiber and splicing equipment, are expected to come in within the next few weeks.

It's a three-year project and once completed, will use NTUA's existing electric lines and microwave system to allow public institutions in the central chapters to have broadband access.

"We are meeting with hospitals, clinics and chapter houses located along the route to explain how the broadband system will work and how it will benefit their operations and communities," Keedo said.

Once completed, the project will provide broadband access to 15,120 square miles of the Navajo Nation's 27,000 square-mile area. More than 30,000 households and 1,000 businesses in 15 of the largest communities - including Window Rock, Shiprock, Kayenta, Chinle, Crownpoint and Tuba City - will become part of the new system.

"This is significant for schools, hospitals and tribal agencies," said Haase, adding that another benefit of the system is that the tribe will be able to use it to "build the foundation for a true emergency-911 notification network."

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