A Ground Breaking Ceremony at Tribal School in New Mexico

E-rate Works: Bringing Broadband to New Mexico Tribal Communities

EducationSuperHighway attended the Middle Grande Rio Rancho Tribal Groundbreaking Ceremony to honor everyone’s hard work in getting fiber infrastructure to pueblo communities. Organized by AMERIND Critical Infrastructure Manager Kimball Sekaquaptewa, this fiber build project will ultimately help Native American students in these Pueblos access high-speed broadband and gain essential skills through the power of technology.

“What brought us here is the desire to do better for our students. We saw how increased broadband speeds in our schools can play a transformational role for education and set a new paradigm for Indian education.”

Kimball Sekaquaptewa, critical infrastructure manager at AMERIND 

People watching a presentation about the Pueblo Education Network in New Mexico

The Vision: A high-speed broadband network for pueblo schools and libraries

Nearly six years ago, native educators at the Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS), which is owned and operated by the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, had a vision of strengthening the network of New Mexico Pueblo schools and libraries to ensure that their children could learn the skills that they needed to succeed and compete on an even playing field.

Addressing infrastructure issues in the underserved tribal lands emerged as the critical first step. Kimball and Alana McGrattan, tribal liaison at the New Mexico State Library, set to work organizing a tribal consortium of four tribal libraries in rural New Mexico. This “Middle Rio Grande Consortium” consists of the Santa Ana, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, and Cochiti Pueblos. Historically, these Pueblos have struggled with extremely low-bandwidth T-1 copper connections for their primary source of Internet.

As a strategy to increase buying power while reducing costs for the tribal community anchor institutions, librarians, education directors, tribal administrators, and IT staff came together to navigate the application process, engage pueblo leadership, coordinate with greater New Mexico state efforts, and advocate to move this project forward.

“We wanted high-speed Internet six years ago; it took about five years. We did the best we could to see if we could try to make something great happen. If the incumbent providers weren’t willing to build out in our area, we were willing to own and operate our own Internet.”

Kimball Sekaquaptewa

The Funding: E-rate opportunities for K-12 schools

By leveraging new E-rate rules allowing the buildout of new fiber optics to these areas, the group applied as a consortium for an E-rate project to bring fiber to all sites and awarded the most cost-effective bid response – a combined dark fiber IRU, and a self-provisioned network.

This project would not have been possible without the E-rate program. Of the total $4.2 million cost of fiber construction to the pueblo communities, $3.9 million will be funded by E-rate. The Middle Rio Grande project received the largest E-rate award in the state of New Mexico in 2016 and is recognized as the first tribal project of its kind since E-rate modernization in 2014.

“Tribal schools and libraries have been going at it alone to increase their access to broadband Internet — with limited and varied success. The new E-rate opportunities allowed the Tribal consortium in New Mexico to address connectivity issues together by aggregating demand and working with our Tribal neighbors, to create a Tribally-owned network that is exponentially faster at a fraction of the cost.”

Derek Valdo, Risk CEO, AMERIND 

The Impact: Quality education and a brighter future for pueblo students

When completed, the newly minted “Pueblo Education Network” will provide greater bandwidth and scalability to allow these critical anchor institutions and their users to access educational opportunities that could never have been realized with the outdated infrastructure.

Students and teachers will now be able to stream educational videos, access online tools that enhance teaching and learning and have the world at their fingertips. Broadband Internet allows for new opportunities to provide native students an educational experience that meets their community needs. Specifically, technology can play a role in native language revitalization. Kimball noted, “Tribal leaders and families repeatedly remind us that language is the priority… Multimedia and recordings can be helpful in learning language; songs and stories. [Technology] can be used as a tool to support the community efforts to meet that mission.”

Two girls holding balloons at an event in New Mexico

“I’m just looking around the room now and seeing my extended family – thank you for making this possible. It takes four Pueblos and a state to build a network, and we made it happen.”

Kimball Sekaquaptewa

For more information about the Middle Rio Grande Pueblo Tribal Consortium project or how to get high-speed Internet to your schools, read AMERIND RISK’s press release or contact the New Mexico Broadband for Education team.