WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Steve Pearce, Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a $13.8 million loan for Sacred Wind Communications to improve service for its 20,000 Northwest New Mexico and Navajo Nation subscribers by upgrading parts of its telecommunications system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service is awarding the loan under the Substantially Underserved Trust Area (SUTA) provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill, which amended the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. The provisions aim to help underserved Tribal communities improve long-term economic development by helping finance improvements in electric, telecommunications, and water and sewer infrastructure.
The low-interest loan will allow Sacred Wind Communications to extend fiber optic cable from near Gallup to the Tohajiilee Navajo Chapter, located 38 miles west of Albuquerque. This network upgrade will dramatically improve subscribers’ broadband speeds from 4 Mbps to 20 Mbps and help support high-speed Internet for businesses. The project is expected to take approximately three years to complete.
“Whether starting a small business or seeing a specialist via tele-health, a high-speed Internet connection is critical,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “But only one in five people living on Tribal land in New Mexico has access to wired broadband. This $13.8 million loan to Sacred Wind Communications will expand broadband Internet service to 20,000 customers in Northwest New Mexico’s Tribal communities, opening up new opportunities in education, economic development, health care and more.”
“In New Mexico and Indian Country, broadband access is critical for local economies and small businesses, and is a cornerstone to improving tele-health services and education and job-training opportunities,” Heinrich said. “This loan to Sacred Wind Communications will extend much-needed broadband to customers on the Navajo Nation. I will continue working to ensure these types of programs remain supported so that all New Mexicans and tribal communities can access the Internet.”
“In an increasingly technological world, New Mexicans remain plagued by a lack of access to high-speed internet,” Pearce said. “Our Tribal communities are hurt the worst, as nearly 90 percent of those living on Tribal lands lack fixed broadband access. This SUTA loan will reach thousands of customers in Native communities and will immediately impact all sectors of life for those customers, opening new doors and creating new opportunities simultaneously. What most Americans take for granted, many New Mexicans – especially those on Tribal lands – go without. It’s time to get broadband to those who need it the most.”
“In an age where connectivity is the key to opportunities and economic growth, this important loan to Sacred Wind Communications will enable it to bring the immense power of the Internet to communities in New Mexico that have lacked a high-speed connection,” Luján said. “Internet access has unlocked the entrepreneurial spirit of innovators, opened up educational opportunities for students, and made a visit with a doctor just a mouse click away. Efforts such as this one to scale the digital divide in rural communities and Tribal land are critical and must continue, because if you can have Internet access on a plane at 30,000 feet, there is no reason we can’t have it in rural New Mexico.”
“This is an important public-private investment in rural infrastructure that is essential to create economic opportunities in our most remote communities,” Lujan Grisham said. “We take broadband service for granted in some communities, but we must tap every resource to ensure rural and tribal communities have access to critical services that will help drive innovation, increase available services and create new opportunities.”
The New Mexico delegation encouraged the Rural Utility Service to consider making funding available under SUTA provisions to help rural and underserved communities that have previously had difficulty accessing federal assistance. This is only the second SUTA loan awarded by the Rural Utility Service, following last year’s $5.4 million loan for Mescalero Apache Telecom.