A $10 million federal grant awarded to the Tohono O’odham Nation will help connect more businesses, schools and farms to high-speed Internet, USDA Arizona Rural Development Director Charlene Fernandez said Thursday.
The grant is part of USDA’s third round of $759 million in funding from the USDA ReConnect program, which was established in 2018 to expand high-speed Internet in rural areas across the country. The program requires applicants to serve areas with no Internet access at download speeds of 100 Mbps and upload speeds of 20 Mbps.
“(ReConnect) will help Navajo and Tohono O’odham tribal communities and many territories in Navajo, Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties,” Fernandez said in a press release. “The program’s equity allows disadvantaged rural areas, tribal reservations and trust lands to have the same high-speed Internet access as elsewhere in Arizona.
A total of $17 million will go to major utility providers for the Navajo and Tohono O’odham Nations.
The Tohono O’odham Utility Authority, the nation’s main Internet service provider, received a $10 million grant to expand high-speed Internet with a “fiber-to-the-premises network,” meaning the installation of electrical fiber optic cables.
The Tohono O’odham Nation is located in the middle of Pima County and extends into both Pinal and Maricopa counties.
As part of the grant, TOUA has committed to “build facilities capable of providing high-speed Internet service at 100 Mbps (download and upload),” according to a press release.
Fiber optic connections on the Nation’s off-reservation trust land in Gila Bend, which has a population of 330, will also be funded, according to the Census Reporter grant.
TOUAs can also reduce Internet connection fees because they are part of two Federal Communications Commission programs, Lifeline for low-income consumers and Affordable Connectivity.
The monthly fee for high-speed Internet through TOUA is $110, which is the rate for a download speed of 100 megabytes per second and an upload speed of 50 Mbps, according to the TOUA website. Cox Communication, the main Internet provider in Tucson, charges about $115 a month for a download speed of 100 Mbps.
Mbps is a standard measure of internet speed and tells how fast people can download or upload items from the internet. Speeds above 25 Mbps are considered “enhanced service” by the FCC. One person telecommuting or downloading files can use 5 to 25 Mbps.
Tohono O’odham Community College was also awarded a $2 million grant in July to improve Internet access near their campus in Sells, Ariz. This funding came from the $268 million ($268 million) Minority Communities Connecting Minority Communities pilot program. Diné College, a public Navajo land grant college, received $3 million from this grant program.
The ReConnect program is earmarked for $1.6 billion in funding through 2022 and is funded in part by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed last year, according to a press release.