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$40 million investment in broadband can connect rural Native American communities and improve education

Vanderlei Longo

This week the U.S. Agriculture secretary visited New Mexico to announce $40 million in grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand broadband in the state. A portion of that will help Native American communities, especially schools.

Kimball Sekaquaptewa already knows how this expansion will improve education for her students. As chief technology director of the Santa Fe Indian School, Sekaquaptewa says the internet has helped students enhance their Native language skills by communicating with their Native-speaking members online.

The school has been working with the Federal Communications Commission and theE-Rate program to establish internet in more Native American schools and expand broadband access to tribal libraries. With the new federal funds they’re able to expand 324 miles west reaching as far as Zuni Pueblo.

To help solve the problems of connectivity and low-education in the state, Sekaquaptewa helped create the Pueblo Education Network which plans to connect rural tribal schools and libraries to national and international education and research networks managed by the University of New Mexico.

"So we just put our little tiny schools and our little tiny libraries in an international high performance computing space, I don't know what we're going to be able to do with it.," she said. "But I know the next generations of our Indian youth are going to do a lot with it."

Other tribal communities are in the process of creating or expanding broadband use to their people. Isleta and Zuni Pueblos are creating fiber-to-the-premises networks while Acoma is creating a wireless network.

"So we're seeing this great momentum across Indian Country in New Mexico right now," she said. "And I'm happy that we're taking the lead."

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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