January 11, 2024

Tohono O’odham Utility Authority unveils expanded high-speed internet access

Funding for the project came from a $10 million grant funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ReConnect Program.

USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small shakes the hand USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small shakes the hand of a Tohono O'odham Utility Authority employee during the groundbreaking near the Hickisaw District Office on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2023.
Provided by USDA Rural Development

The Tohono O’odham Utility Authority deployed a new fiber optic network Thursday morning that will provide high-speed internet access to rural parts of the Nation.

In October 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the Tohono O’odham Nation nearly $10 million through its ReConnect Program.

USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small attended today’s groundbreaking, saying the expanded access would provide internet to 422 households, 123 farms, and 11 small businesses across Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal Counties.

“What does this $10 million investment mean?” Small said. “It means a future for the Tohono O’odham nation that can be about whatever you want it to be. So that kids growing up here can have their best opportunities, work anywhere from their home, from their community.”

Access to high-speed internet means that communities will have better access to resources like telehealth appointments and remote learning, which TOUA General Manager Brian Fickett said was an issue during the pandemic due to low access.

“When we talk about the digital divide, this is ground zero,” Fickett said. “We learned that during the pandemic when kids were needing to be educated remotely and they were having problems connecting with the services TOUA was offering.”

As a part of the project, the utility authority will participate in the Federal Communication Commission’s Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity programs to ensure that its new high-speed internet is affordable.

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