WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced a $5.4 million loan for Mescalero Apache Telecom Inc. (MATI) to improve service for its subscribers by upgrading parts of its telecommunications system, and providing fiber optic Internet service to about half of the territory it serves. 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 gave the Rural Utilities Service new tools to finance improvements in electric, telecommunications, and water and sewer infrastructure in underserved tribal communities. The SUTA provisions were implemented as part of a long-term strategy to assist tribes in meeting their utility infrastructure needs, and improving economic development. Udall and Heinrich encouraged the Rural Utility Service to consider making funding available under these provisions for the first time to help rural and underserved communities that have previously had difficulty accessing federal assistance. The funding will help improve improve telecommunications service for thousands of rural customers.
"This funding will not only help Mescalero Apache Telecom bring better broadband service to its subscribers, it will expand access to health care and improve economic development and education opportunities," said Udall, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. "The Internet has become vital to the way we live and work. Yet today, almost 90 percent of those living on tribal lands in New Mexico do not have access to fast broadband speeds enjoyed by residents and businesses elsewhere. Through investments like this Rural Utility Service funding, I will continue to work to bridge the digital divide facing Indian Country, and ensure that all New Mexico communities have access to reliable and affordable broadband."
"Too many of our rural communities in Indian Country lack broadband access, which is a corner stone to economic development and improving tele-health services, education, and job training," Heinrich said. "These funds will help the Mescalero Apache Tribe upgrade its broadband infrastructure and bridge the digital divide in rural New Mexico, resulting in expanded economic and educational opportunities for residents and businesses.”
One of only a handful of tribally owned and operated telecommunications providers, MATI primarily serves a community living across an expansive area of more than 720 square miles in New Mexico. This new loan will enable the company to improve telecommunications services for approximately 70 percent of its customers.