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 will help more businesses, schools and farms get Internet speed, Charlene Fernandez, USDA director of rural development for Arizona, announced Thursday.

The grant is part of a $759 million third round of funding from the USDA’s ReConnect program, which was established in 2018 to extend high-speed internet to rural areas around the country. The program requires serving requests for areas that lack Internet access with download speeds of 100 Mbps and upload speeds of 20 Mbps.

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

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

The utility authority of the Tohono O’odham, the nation’s main Internet provider, received a $10 million grant to extend Internet speed with a “fiber-to-the-premises” network, which means installing electrical fiber optic cables.

The Tohono O’odham people are in the center of Pima County and extend into both Pinal and Maricopa counties.

As part of the grant, TOUA is committed “to building facilities suitable for high-speed internet service with speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload),” the newspaper said.

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It also granted fiber optic connections to land on the National Conservation Trust’s land in Gila Bend, which has a population of 330, according to the Census Bureau.

TOUA can also be discounted as much as they charge for Internet connections because they are part of the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline for Low-Income Consumers and Affordable Connections program.

The monthly cost of internet through TOUA is $110, which is a rate of speeds of 100 megabytes per second and upload speeds of 50 Mbps, according to the TOUA website. Cox Communications, the main Internet provider in Tucson, charges about $115 per month for 100 Mbps download speeds.

Mbps is a measure of internet speed and means how quickly people can download or upload things to the internet. Speeds of more than 25 Mbps are considered “advanced service” by the FCC. One 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 its campus in Sells, Ariz., funded by a $268 million Joint Minority Communities Pilot Program. Diné College, a state-grant Navajo land college, received $3 million from that grant program.

The ReConnect program will provide $1.6 billion in funding through 2022 and is partially passed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act last year, the press release said.


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