Prof. Elizabeth Belding awarded $2 Million NSF grant to develop Internet access solutions for improved connectivity to rural Native American Indian Nations


CS Professor Elizabeth Belding is the Principal Investigator of a recent $2 Million, three year NSF grant titled "PuebloConnect: Expanding Internet Access and Content Relevance in Tribal Communities".  The project is a collaboration with Marisa Duarte (Arizona State), Morgan Vigil-Hayes (Northern Arizona University), Ellen Zegura (Georgia Tech) and Jennifer Nevarez (Community Learning Network).  Prof. Vigil-Hayes is a 2017 Ph.D. graduate of UCSB, who worked in Prof. Belding’s research group.

The project addresses the dual goal of improving Internet access through innovative network architectures designed for underserved or technologically and economically marginalized communities, while also creating social structures to build local capacity toward regular digital content creation.  The work will support Internet connectivity and education for Native American communities in Northern New Mexico, which have some of the lowest Internet access and usage rates amongst all U.S. ethnic groups.  To solve Internet access and content relevance challenges in these communities, Prof. Belding’s project re-envisions Internet deployment and provisioning through the combination, interaction, and innovation of middle and last mile technologies.  As a part of this project, the team with work with local partners to deploy, measure, and study TV white space spectrum access links to points within the communities.  To ensure the relevance and success of innovative technical solutions, the team will use iterative participatory action research, in which community members are engaged in the planning, implementation and dissemination of the work.

Prof. Belding has over five years of experience working with Native American communities to study Internet access patterns and develop novel network technologies that bring more people online.  Rural communities represent some of the final frontiers of Internet coverage in America, due to their geographic remoteness, sparse population densities, and subsequent high costs of technology deployments.  Together, these characteristics make technological solutions used in more urban areas infeasible.  Studies continue to show the importance of Internet access to individuals and communities, including economic, health, and educational benefits.  These benefits are particularly vital in rural or disadvantaged areas, that may lack the resources of more urban regions.