October 25, 2019

Slow broadband speeds challenge Tohono O'odham Community College

People living on tribal lands or in rural areas have underserved broadband needs across Arizona.

As Arizona takes steps to improve access broadband, it’s looking at shortfalls in service in rural areas and tribal lands. According to the state’s 2018 Broadband Strategic Plan, 95% of the tribal land population have either unserved or underserved telecommunications capabilities. As a result, many rely on what’s known as a community anchor institution such as schools, libraries and other facilities that support the community.

On the Tohono O’odham Nation in Sells, the Tohono O’odham Community College serves that role. Lorraine Rivera traveled to Sells to learn more about the ongoing need for faster internet speeds from the college’s dean of sustainability, Mario Montes-Helu, and IT technician Shawn Nez, who also grew up on the nation.

The college has a National Science Foundation grant to improve cyberinfrastructure in order to support STEM research and education on campus. TOCC is also part of an IT consortium with other tribal colleges in New Mexico and Arizona. They are exploring different technologies that can help decrease the “homework gap,” which refers to the obstacles students experience when they try to complete homework without reliable internet access.

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