It doesn’t take the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to tell rural Indians that they are a severely underserved community when it comes to access to technology. But it may take a famous tech guru or two to put a fine point on the cure.
This was the case most recently when Megan Smith, the first female Chief Technology Officer of the United States and former Google Vice President, spoke to members of the Coeur d’Alene tribe about the technological and economics advantages of “Inspire Idaho” (InspireID), an online curriculum designed to give people access to the trillion-dollar app economy from their own homes.
“Everybody needs a digital team and all these jobs are open and they pay 50 percent more than the average American salary,” Smith pitched. Though not designed specifically for tribal use, it was meant to give the people of Idaho opportunity that, to date, had largely passed them by. And it is meant to be inclusive, according to Smith, who was part of a 20-city tour to demonstrate that “coding is in everyone’s blood,” even in the far reaches of Indian Country.InspireID, created by the Innovation Collection, the University of Idaho, and global industry leaders, provides a rapid-learning platform where anyone can “play” around with the app to “prepare everyone in…Idaho for the future of work by training them in the skills that industry leaders are looking for.” A first of its kind program in the United States, the program launched in June 2018 with the objective of making a 12-month, 180-hour Apple’s Everyone Can Code app development program accessible to 140 participants in five Idaho cities, one of which was Plummer, Idaho, located in the heart of the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. Participants have a variety of learning platforms they can explore in their local county extension offices to develop coding proficiency. Better yet, students that don’t own a MacBook can purchase a MacBook Air at the discounted price of $799, and if they cannot afford to buy one, the Innovation Collective will lend them one for free for a year. They also have access to University of Idaho experts and mentors and are able to participate in cohort groups to hone their skills. By the end of the year, students are expected to have created five apps in collaboration with their three to five person cohort team members, and have learned skills that they can literally take home – and take to the bank.
Smith is not the only big name attached to the effort. Innovation Collective CEO Nick Smoot, and former Google chair Eric Schmidt have also lent their names, expertise, and money to this “rapid learning” program. All 140 places for the first year of classes are filled, and the waiting list is 650 people long and growing, so the demand is there. So also is the demand in the coding and cybersecurity market sectors which the United States now fills through foreign recruitment.
But education is only part of the solution. The lack of internet service in rural Idaho remains a roadblock once students return to the reservation or rural home. Only 82 percent of Idaho has broadband coverage with 24.8 MBPS average statewide speed. This makes Idaho the 37th most connected state. This translates into 296,000 people in Idaho without access to a connection of more than 25MBPS. Worse, there are 103,000 Idahoans that do not have internet providers where they live. That includes the Coeur d’Alene Reservation which sits at LAT: 47.2832 LONG: 116.8343.