The Digital Reservation

June 16, 2014

As an engineer working for a global communications networking company, I cannot overstate the value of having a good education.  My teenage son, however, is more amazed by the fact that I was schooled during the “B.C. era” -- before computers. Looking back on my years in high school, it’s hard to imagine how I excelled without a PC, let alone Internet access. Back then of course, we didn’t know what we were missing.  Now we do.

But consider that only last year, 39% of the world’s population used the Internet. This digital divide cuts across even the most developed nations like United States. The Native American population is one example: more than 90 percent of tribal populations lack high-speed Internet access, and usage rates are as low as 5 percent in some areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission.  Add to that the high school dropout rate for Native Americans is among the highest in the country.

Broadband access can be a ticket to keeping teens in school and cultivating their success. Recognizing the vital role technology plays in a 21st Century education, Alcatel-Lucent is teaming up with Verizon in delivering a special program for Native American youth living in 10 school-related dormitories on reservations across the West and Midwest. The program was announced by President Obama in his June 13 visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and will connect more than 1,000 Native American middle and high school students to the Internet. 

Verizon will deploy network infrastructure including Alcatel-Lucent LTE small cells (think of them as mini radio cell towers) for added capacity, coverage and optimal performance.  In addition, each student will receive a wireless tablet from Microsoft and hands-on training in how to use the devices effectively for learning. Verizon also engaged Cross Wireless, a participant in Verizon Wireless’ LTE in Rural America program, to deliver on this critical program.

This initiative spells big possibilities for Indian students as it heightens their interest in learning and allows teachers to provide a wider spectrum of content.  We know this firsthand from our work at Alcatel-Lucent Foundation.

We also know that if more people have access to mobile communications and the Internet, economies can grow through access to education, information, healthcare and more. According to a model developed by Bell Labs and the World Economic Forum, the right combination of actions and investment can increase the GDP growth rate of a typical emerging country by 36%. Increasing the HDI by less than one percent, for example, gives 440,000 more children access to education and raises average life expectancy by 15 months. Increasing mobile penetration brings healthcare to rural areas, catalyzes business growth and expands the reach of government services.

In essence, it will change the way people live and learn –- including Native American students.

[Editor's Note: This blog was republished with persmission from Alcatel-Lucent.]