As the COVID-19 pandemic led to the suspension of in-person classes throughout the state, the Navajo and Hopi Nations have been hit hard by both the disease and the inability to access broadband internet.
To assist with the broadband issue, NAU's Information Technology Services (ITS) has set up Wi-Fi devices at the Navajo Nation Museum property in Window Rock and the Good Shepherd Mission in Fort Defiance. These parking lot hot spots are open to students from any K-12 programs and college institutions, providing internet access for any mobile device, including laptops and smartphones.
The partnership between the Navajo and Hopi Nations comes after Navajo Nation President Jonathon Nez told KTAR News about the issues with their internet in regard to better high-speed internet accessibility.
"We got college students, university students, even high school students being told to log onto the internet and do your homework," Nez said in the article. "I fear that some of our students that are at home are going to fall behind because we don’t have the best broadband connectivity here on the Navajo Nation."
According to an update Wednesday night in the Navajo Times, there are 921 positive COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation and 38 deaths. The pandemic has brought to light the inability for many students to access high-speed internet to complete their coursework.
Chad Hamill, vice president of the Office of Native American Initiatives at NAU, noted the importance of providing adequate broadband internet to students in the Navajo Nation.
"The digital divide on the Navajo Nation is wide, with many communities unable to access adequate Wi-Fi at home," Hamill said. "The COVID-19 outbreak on the Nation is significant, and there is a lot of fear and anxiety. By giving students some additional options to connect and take courses, we hope to bring some measure of relief and let them know that our institutional commitment to Native Americans means none of them are left behind."
In addition, the Navajo Nation Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and its service providers — including AT&T/Cricket, Cellular One, Choice NTUA Wireless, Frontier, Naked Mobile, Sacred Wind Communications, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless — took the Keeping Americans Connected Pledge.
The pledge provides relief for consumers. It began March 16 and will last for 60 days during the COVID-19 pandemic as service shall not be interrupted or disconnected. Late fees related to COVID-19 will not be accessed during the duration of the global health emergency, according to the Navajo Nation Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Facebook page.
Moreover, NAU is also working to open up parking lots for Wi-Fi access at the UA agriculture extension sites in Kykotsmovi Village on the Hopi Nation and Tuba City on the Navajo Nation.