Tohono O’odham to recieve $10M grant to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas

A $10 million federal grant awarded to the Tohono O’odham Nation will help connect more businesses, schools and farms to high-speed Internet, Charlene Fernandez, the USDA rural development director for Arizona, announced Thursday.

The grant is part of the $759 million third round of funding from the USDA’s ReConnect program, set up in 2018 to expand high-speed internet in rural areas across the country. The program requires applicants to serve areas that lack Internet access with download speeds of 100 Mbps and upload speeds of 20 Mbps.

“(ReConnect) will assist the Navajo and Tohono O’odham Tribal communities and many areas in Navajo, Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal counties,” Fernandez said in a press release. “The equity of the program allows poor rural areas, Tribal reservations, and trust lands to get the same high-speed internet access as the rest of Arizona.

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A total of $17 million will go to the main utility service providers of the Navajo and Tohono O’odham Nations.

The Tohono O’odham Utility Authority, the nation’s leading Internet provider, received a $10 million grant to add high-speed Internet with a “fiber-to-the-premises network,” which means installing of electric fiber optic cables.

The Tohono O’odham Nation is located in the middle of Pima County and extends into Pinal and Maricopa County.

As part of the grant, TOUA committed “to build facilities capable of providing high-speed internet service with a speed of 100 Mbps (download and upload),” the press release said.

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The grant will also fund fiber optic connections on the Nation’s off-reservation trust land in Gila Bend, which has a population of 330, according to the Census Reporter.

TOUA is also able to discount how much they pay for Internet connections because they are part of two Federal Communications Commission programs — Lifeline for Low-Income Consumers and Affordable Connectivity.

The monthly cost of high-speed Internet through TOUA is $110, which is the rate of download speed of 100 megabytes per second and upload speed of 50 Mbps, according to the TOUA website. Cox Communication, Tucson’s leading Internet provider, charges about $115 a month for 100 Mbps download speed.

Mbps is the basic measure of Internet speed and refers to how quickly people can download or upload things on the internet. Speeds above 25 Mbps are considered “advanced service” by the FCC. A person can get between 5 to 25 Mbps when telecommuting or downloading files.

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Tohono O’odham Community College was also awarded a $2 million grant in July to improve Internet access near their campus in Sells, Ariz. That funding comes from the $268 million Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. Diné College, a public Navajo land-grant college, received $3 million from the grant program.

The ReConnect program has $1.6 billion in funding for 2022 and is partially funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Act passed last year, the press release said.


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