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, USDA’s director of rural development for Arizona, announced Thursday.
The grant is part of a third round of $759 million 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 applicants to serve 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 a news release. “The equity in the program allows disadvantaged rural areas, Tribal reservations and trust lands to get the same high-speed Internet access as elsewhere in Arizona.
A total of $17 million will go to the main service providers of the Navajo and Tohono O’odham Nations.
The Tohono O’odham Utility Authority, the nation’s main Internet provider, received the $10 million grant to extend high-speed Internet with a “fiber-to-the-premises network,” which means installing electrical fiber optic cables.
The Tohono O’odham Nation is in the middle of Pima County and extends into both Pinal and Maricopa County.
As part of the grant, TOUA is committed to “build facilities capable of providing high-speed Internet service with speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload),” the press release said.
The grant also funds fiber optic connections in the Nation’s off-reserve trust in Gila Bend, which has a population of 330, according to the Census Reporter.
The TOUA can also 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 the TOUA is $110, which is the rate for download speeds of 100 megabytes per second and upload speeds of 50 Mbps, according to the TOUA website. Cox Communication, the leading Internet provider in Tucson, charges about $115 a month for 100 Mbps download speeds.
Mbps is the standard measure of internet speed and refers to how fast people can download or upload items to the internet. Speeds of more than 25 Mbps are considered “advanced service” by the FCC. A single person can get up to between 5 to 25 Mbps when telecommuting or downloading files.
Tohono O’odham Community College was also awarded a $2 million grant in July to improve internet access near their campus in Sells, Arizona. That funding came from the $268 million Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. The Diné College, a public Navajo land grant college, received $3 million from this grant program.
The ReConnect program has $1.6 billion in funding to provide through 2022 and is partially funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act that passed last year, the press release said.