By Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
FARMINGTON — When the coronavirus pandemic forced a majority of residents on the Navajo Nation to rely on the internet for work and school, it revealed the digital gap.
COVID-19 called attention to deficiencies in infrastructure and in high-speed internet service within the Navajo Nation, tribal President Jonathan Nez said during a roundtable discussion on May 6 with federal and state officials.
The Navajo Nation is 27,000 square miles, roughly equal to the size of West Virginia, and its vastness and terrain are among the obstacles to expansion of broadband access, Nez explained to the panel.
"The lack of electrical infrastructure, the existence of many dark zones with no cellular service, the lack of fiber and few broadband service providers all lead to limited and expensive broadband services for our households, schools, businesses, government offices and health care facilities," he said.
For U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., an image out of the pandemic showed Native American students struggling to maintain their education because they lacked internet at home.
"They had paper lessons delivered by school bus – no teacher interaction – just a bus drop," Leger Fernández said.
Statistics from the Federal Communications Commission show that Native American and Alaska Native communities have less access to broadband than the general U.S. population.