Hi-speed Internet getting closer

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, May 3, 2012

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A map from the NTUA shows the progress of fiber-optic installations across the Navajo Nation. The red lines indicate completed fiber-optic lines.

T he Navajo Tribal Utility Authority's long-heralded high-speed Internet and wireless data project is on schedule and parts of the reservation will have access this year, according to NTUA personnel.

"The 'make-ready' phase of the project - which is an upgrade of the whole NTUA system - is 85 percent completed," engineering technician Thomas Dennison said recently. "The 35 new towers are about 75 percent done."

Dennison declined to project a completion date for the project, but did say the fiber-optic lines will be "lit up" as they are completed, starting with the phase from Shiprock to Chinle.

First priority will be to run the service to commercial enterprises, hospitals and schools, and residential service will follow, Dennison said.

The $46 million project, funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will not only increase download speeds in areas that already have Internet, but provide Internet access for the first time in remote areas of Diné Bikéyah.

"You'll be able to pull off the road and watch a movie in real time," promised Monroe Kedo with NTUA's Business Development Group.

NTUA technicians will run 550 miles of 96-strand fiber-optic cable throughout the reservation, along with setting up microwave towers that will beam access into just about every corner of the Navajo Nation.

The huge cables will be capable of carrying 10 gigabytes of information.

"If you think of it as a water pipeline, we're running a huge, big pipe into the reservation," Kedo explained.

Most of the larger communities on Navajo have access to DSL lines through private companies. It's billed as high-speed Internet, but because the providers have oversubscribed the lines, Kedo said, it's anything but.

In Chinle, for example, provider Frontier guarantees speeds "up to" one megabyte per second, but online speed testing at this reporter's home Wednesday revealed a download speed around 200 kilobytes per second. It takes all night to download an episode of a television show.

"Electricity travels at the speed of light," Kedo said. "The only bottleneck is the size of the pipe, which is what we will be correcting with this project."

As the fiber-optic cables are laid, a state-of-the-art 4G network will also be established, considerably improving download speeds for cell phones.

"Working with partner Comcast Wireless, we will eventually be competing directly with local cellular providers," Kedo said.

In Chinle, the old NTUA headquarters, which was recently replaced with an expansive, LEED-certified building, is being renovated as the regional headquarters for the new cellular company.

The new enterprise will provide dozens of new jobs across the reservation, according to Kedo.

NTUA customers could conceivably have their wireless phone service, Internet service, water and electricity on the same bill - and keep all their money on the Navajo Nation.

"One-stop shopping," grinned Dennison.

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