People clap as Jemez Pueblo Gov. Dominic Gachupin speaks about broadband at a celebration on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)
JEMEZ PUEBLO — Under the shade of temporary tents set up to protect from a beaming Monday morning sun, dozens of tribal members, state officials and federal staff gathered to celebrate a recent state broadband grant that helps set in motion a project to connect all homes in the Pueblo of Jemez to more reliable, high-speed internet.
It reflects a broader mission to connect everyone in New Mexico to broadband.
The New Mexico Office of Broadband Access and Expansion awarded Jemez Pueblo $8.56 million to connect 687 homes, businesses and organizations to fiber-optic internet. Jemez officials committed another $6.64 million to get the project done.
The state grant comes from a $66.8 million pot announced in early September for tribes and communications companies around the state.
At Monday’s celebration of the award, Jemez Pueblo officials and people who live in the community said keeping up with broadband is important.
“You really are here today at a unique time in history where the technology that was only available to large government institutions is now going to be available to every member in the community,” said Kevin Winner, Jemez Pueblo information technology director.
People in Jemez Pueblo already have wireless internet access but struggle with slow speeds. Fiber will kick up the pace drastically.
Winner told Source NM in two years, he expects all tribal homes to be connected to fiber-optic internet.
Getting to this point
Sandeep Taxali is the broadband programs advisor for the New Mexico Office of Broadband Access and Expansion. He said a lot of people in suburban America have cable internet instead of fiber internet, and he personally probably won’t have fiber optic in his lifetime.
Jemez Pueblo is leaping ahead, he said, to the “gold standard” of broadband.
“This network is not just future-ready, but it’s future-proof,” he said.
He said the need for better internet in Jemez Pueblo and its past experience with internet expansion helped secure this award from the state.
In 2018, tribal officials connected schools and libraries to the internet through E-Rate, a federal program that provides discounts for connecting institutions to broadband, explained Kevin Shendo, Jemez Pueblo director of education.
At the same time, the Jemez tribal council allocated funding to set up fiber infrastructure to be used in the future — well before officials applied for this state broadband funding, he said.
In 2020, Shendo said, Jemez Pueblo bought and set up the fiber cables.
That sped up the current project by years.
Winner said it would normally take three or four years to get this kind of broadband expansion done, but things should wrap up within two years with the fiber infrastructure already ready.
The next three to six months will be planning and permitting, he said, then installation will take about 18 months. Winner added that the Jemez Pueblo could face challenges in staffing shortages or supply chain delays with this project, something other tribal nations in New Mexico as well as nationwide internet projects are facing.
Taxali also acknowledged JNet, an internet service provider set up in 2020 and operated by Jemez Pueblo that he said shows the New Mexico broadband office that the tribe can “design, implement and deliver broadband.”
JNet allowed everyone in Jemez Pueblo to connect to wireless internet. Fiber-optic will allow the service to improve its speeds.
Taxali said economic distress also contributed to the state choosing Jemez Pueblo for this award.
He and Jemez Pueblo officials urged tribal members to take advantage of job opportunities broadband can create, like work in IT or mechanic jobs splicing the fiber cable that will deliver internet to homes.
“This project will help alleviate the economic situation,” Taxali said.
Teaching people why it matters
Tim Armijo sees firsthand the benefits of fiber-optic internet at his job in the tribal office and then goes home to lagging wireless speeds.
“There’s a huge difference between internet speeds at work and at home,” he said. He should be one of the many Jemez Pueblo people to benefit from the new home fiber-optic project.
He said internet has become a norm in the “world of technology” that exists now. Broadband creates opportunities for employment and education that he hopes tribal members use to their advantage.
Looking around the event on Monday, Armijo said he wished more community members showed up. He said high-speed internet is something that can improve their lives.
“I don’t think enough of the community realizes just what a huge benefit this is going to be,” he said.
Armijo said a lot of the tribal members don’t have a lot of experience or knowledge about how to use technology like the internet.
“So that needs to be dealt with,” he said. “The community members need to be taught how to use computers, this high tech.”
Elston Yippa, employee with the Jemez Pueblo IT department, agreed that classes for tribal members who don’t know a lot about the internet could help catch them up on why it’s important and how it’ll impact the Pueblo’s future.
“We can let our elders and our communities know what this technology is all about,” Yippa (Jemez) said.
He said while the Jemez Pueblo still practices its traditions and cultures, this will help members stay afloat while technology continues to evolve.
“We don’t want to fall behind the rest of the world,” he said.
Jemez Pueblo Gov. Dominic Gachupin said leaders from other tribal nations have reached out with thanks and pride for the work Jemez Pueblo is doing with broadband.
A science fiction fan, he said he always wondered how Star Trek technology works and now, the community is already on its way to reaching that kind of tech.
“Within 10 years, we’re going to be so advanced,” he said.
As tribal members and visitors toured the Jemez Pueblo fiber homebase on Monday, council member David Toledo looked around at the IT trailers set up and a big antenna looming in the distance.
Five years ago, he said, this was an old track field.
“We had no idea this thing was going to move so fast,” he said. “And it’s good.”
Toledo said these funding opportunities are really worth it for small communities, especially Native communities. He said he looks forward to continued support from state and federal partners as the project keeps going.
“It’s still in the initial stages,” he said. “There’s so much that will be developed in the near future.”
This article has been updated to correctly reflect Sandeep Taxali’s title with the New Mexico Office of Broadband Access and Expansion.
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