“We had no internet anywhere in the booking. So parents would have to walk their kids down to I-25 to park, and the kids would have to do their homework on their cell phones,” said Herman Sanchez, Santo Domingo Pueblo Tribal Administrator, of accessing online learning during the early stages of the COVID -19 pandemic.
Santo Domingo Pueblo (Kewa) in Sandoval County has since secured $12.7 million in funding for resources to expand Internet access. The expansion is being funded through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which is part of President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda. The program also provides funding to communities throughout New Mexico, including communities in Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Torrance and Sandoval counties.
“This award is part of the largest investment in high-speed Internet history and is bridging the digital divide by building American-made fiber-optic cable,” said Mitch Landrieu, Senior Advisor to the President and White House Infrastructure Coordinator. , at a Thursday press conference.
Santo Domingo Pueblo first took matters into its own hands in May 2020 when it began implementing solar panels to help with connectivity to the pueblo. At the time, there was a seven-month wait for antenna brackets.
“We couldn’t wait seven months. So we printed a prototype,” Sanchez said. “We started with zero. We were using my IT director’s 3D printer at home.”
As the project progressed, the tribe invested in their own 3D printer to expand production. Now, these 3D printed brackets are on all 700 homes on the reservation.
Internet connectivity became available to every Pueblo home in August 2020.
With the help of nearly $13 million in federal funding, the tribe will now have even greater access to resources. It is expanding its existing fiber optic connectivity, which will be plugged into every single Pueblo home.
The new funding allows the cable to connect to the long-standing commercial station, which community members will work on.
“We are not offering jobs; we are offering careers,” Sanchez said.
The project will return economy dollars to the community and expand broadband to communities outside Santo Domingo, including Sile, Cochiti Pueblo and Pea Blanca, to which Santo Domingo supplies Internet.
“Because we are one of three Indian tribes across the country that own our own Internet company,” Sanchez said.
The tribe has also applied for the Connect New Mexico Grant, a program announced in 2022. It is designed to cover up to 75 percent of total project costs for network expansion, which can help complete the Santo Domingo project.
Now, tribal leaders are working on a solar field, a 5,000-square-foot IT administration building, a $64 million wastewater project, a $14 million clean water renovation project, a training center where other tribes and businesses can learn how to operate servers , a data center for storage and a $15 million children’s center that opened last month and is expected to be ready in 2024.
“We are trying to build something here, for our people. So we can bring economic development to Santo Domingo,” Sanchez said.
The federal Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided the funding. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the state’s $675 million investment at a press conference Thursday, where she spoke with Assistant Assistant Secretary of Communications and Information April McClain-Delaney.
“Whether you live in a city, rural areas or tribal lands, Internet access is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” McClain-Delaney said.
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