“We had zero internet anywhere on the reservation. So parents would have to drive their children up to I-25 to park, and the kids would have to do their homework on their cell phone,” Santo Domingo Pueblo Tribal Administrator Herman Sanchez said about online learning access during the earliest stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Santo Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo in Sandoval County has since secured $12.7 million in funding for resources to expand internet access. The expansion is funded through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which is part of President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda. The program is also providing funding to communities throughout New Mexico, including communities in Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Torrance and Sandoval counties.
“This award is part of the single largest investment in high-speed internet in history, and it’s bridging the digital divide by building fiber-optic cable made in America,” said Senior Advisor to the President and White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu at a press conference on Thursday.
The Santo Domingo Pueblo first took matters into its own hands in May 2020, when it began to implement solar panels to help with connectivity at the pueblo. There was a seven-month wait for antenna brackets at the time.
“We couldn’t wait seven months. So we printed a prototype,” Sanchez said. “We started out with zero. We were using my IT director’s 3D printer at home.”
As the project progressed, the tribe invested in its own 3D printer to expand production. Now, these 3D printed brackets are on all 700 homes on the reservation.
Internet connectivity became available to every home on the Pueblo in August 2020.
With the help of the nearly $13 million in federal funding, the tribe will now have even wider access to resources. It is expanding its current fiber-optic connectivity, which will be put into every single home on the Pueblo.
The new funding allows the cable to connect to the long-standing trading post, which members of the community will work on.
“We’re not offering jobs; we’re offering careers,” Sanchez said.
The project will put economy dollars back into the community and expand broadband to communities outside of Santo Domingo, including Sile, Cochiti Pueblo and Peña Blanca, which Santo Domingo provides internet to.
“Because we’re one of three Indian tribes in the entire country that owns our own internet company,” Sanchez said.
The tribe has also applied for the Connect New Mexico Grant, a program that was announced in 2022. It is designed to cover up to 75% of total project costs for network expansion, which can help to complete the Santo Domingo project.
Now, tribal leaders are working on a solar field, a 5,000-square-foot IT administration building, a $64 million wastewater project, restructuring a $14 million clean water project, a training center where other tribes and businesses can learn how to operate the servers, a data center for storage and a $15 million child care center, which broke ground last month and is expected to be ready in 2024.
“We’re trying to build something here, for our own people. So we can bring economic development within Santo Domingo,” Sanchez said.
The federal Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided the funding. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the $675 million investment for the state in a press conference on Thursday, where Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information April McClain-Delaney spoke.
“Whether you live in a city, in rural areas, or on tribal lands, internet access isn’t a luxury — it is a necessity,” McClain-Delaney said.