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Arizona Tribe Awarded $5.8 Million Loan To Improve Internet Connections

 A federal agency has awarded Hopi Telecommunications, Inc. $5.82 million to upgrade internet access in rural northern Arizona.

“What it will do is help us provide fiber connectivity to households to schools and to businesses,” said Hopi Telecommunications General Manager Carroll Onsae.

The Hopi Tribe bought the assets of an existing telecommunications company in 2006 with a federal loan.

“That company wasn’t investing in infrastructure and the Hopi community, the Hopi tribe, was being left behind,” said Hopi Telecommunications certified public accountant Darlene Burden.

Hopi Telecommunications has since sought other federal grants and loansto build up the community’s access to technology.

“There isn’t really a business market for someone, a big company from the outside to come and invest in a lot of infrastructure when there are not a lot of customers and such a wide, vast land span,” Burden said. 

Today the company serves 2,400 square miles and more than 1,000 customers with telephone and internet service.

Many have copper connections that can slow internet speeds or prevent multiple people in a household from being online at the same time. The goal is to reach download speeds of 10 megabits per second, which for example would allow someone to stream high-definition video. The most recent report from the Federal Communications Commission shows more than 90 percent of Arizonans on tribal land don't have fixed broadband internet access— 70 percent can access LTE on a mobile device.

“They want to be able to connect with the outside world,” Onsae said. “This build out is very important, it’s really key to the economic growth of Hopi Reservation and the Hopi people.”

Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.