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

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

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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 a $759 million third round of funding from the USDA's ReConnect program, which was set up in 2018 to extend high-speed internet to rural areas around the country. The program requires applicants to serve areas that lack access to Internet with download speeds of 100 Mbps and upload speeds of 20 Mbps.

“(ReConnect) will aid the Navajo and Tohono O'odham Tribal communities and numerous areas in Navajo, Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal counties,” Fernandez said in a press 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 utility 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 electric fiber optic cables. 

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

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

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

The TOUA is also able to discount how much they charge for Internet connections because they’re 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 main 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 quickly people can download from or upload items to the internet. Speeds of more than 25 Mbps are considered “advanced service” by the FCC. A single person can take up 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, Ariz. 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 that grant program.

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

Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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