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

A $10 million federal grant to the Tohono O’odham Nation will help connect more businesses, schools and farms to high-speed Internet, Arizona’s USDA Rural Development Director Charlene Fernandez announced Thursday.

The grant is part of the third round of $759 million in funding from the USDA’s ReConnect program, which was established in 2018 to expand high-speed Internet to rural areas across the country. The program requires applicants to serve areas without Internet access with download speeds of 100 Mbps and upload speeds of 20 Mbps.

“(ReConnect) will serve the Navajo and Tohono O’odham tribal communities and numerous areas in Navajo, Maricopa, Pima and Pinal Counties,” Fernandez said in a press release. “Equity in the program allows disadvantaged rural areas, tribal reservations and trust lands to have the same high-speed Internet access as elsewhere in Arizona.

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

The Tohono Oodham Utility Authority, the nation’s main Internet provider, received a $10 million grant to expand high-speed Internet with a “fiber-to-the-premises network,” meaning installing electric fiber optic cables.

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

As part of the grant, TOUA is “committed to building facilities capable of providing high-speed Internet services at speeds of up to 100 Mbps (download and upload),” the press release said.

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The grant will also fund a fiber optic connection to Nations Off-Reservation Trust land in the Gila Bend, which has a population of 330, according to the Census Reporter.

TOUA is also able to offer discounts on how much they charge for Internet connections because they are part of two Federal Communications Commission programs – Lifeline for Low-Income Consumers and Affordable Connectivity.

High-speed Internet through TOUA costs $110 per month, which according to the TOUA website rates for download speeds of 100 megabytes per second and upload speeds of 50 Mbps. Cox Communication, the main Internet provider in Tucson, charges $115 per month for 100 Mbps download speed.

Mbps is a standard measure of Internet speed and refers to how quickly people can download or upload items to the Internet. Speeds above 25 Mbps are considered “advanced service” by the FCC. A single person can take anywhere from 5 to 25 Mbps while communicating 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 its campus in Sells, Ariz. The funding came 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 through 2022 and is partially funded by the bipartisan infrastructure act passed last year, the press release said.


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