Sacred Wind Communications bridges the digital divide for the Navajo Nation
Eighty-five percent of Sacred Wind Communications customers are Navajo. As the only privately owned telco solely focused on bridging the digital divide for rural tribal communities, Sacred Wind relies on a Juniper network to bring blazing-fast broadband to the rugged and remote territory of New Mexico.
Of the rural tribal communities, within Sacred Wind territory, have access to high-speed Internet
Increase in network capacity to meet the digital needs of the COVID-19-ravaged area
Students keep learning and families stay together
Businesses on the Navajo Nation connected
Broadband changes lives in the rural communities of New Mexico
“Sacred Wind’s mission is to provide equality of opportunity, through our communication services, to people in the tribal and rural areas of New Mexico,” says Catherine Nicolaou, external affairs manager at Sacred Wind Communications.
When Sacred Wind began serving the community in 2006, only 26% of households had landline phones and none had high-speed Internet. Sacred Wind’s service territory covers deserts, five mountain ranges, and multiple canyons.
Fast forward to 2021: Every home has a landline and 85% of households have access to some of the fastest Internet available on tribal land. When lava fields make burying fiber all but impossible, Sacred Wind uses fixed wireless. Solar power brings Internet to families without electricity.
The pandemic tested Sacred Wind’s commitment when the Navajo Nation faced some of the highest rates of COVID-19 anywhere in the US. As the urgency for digital connection grew, Sacred Wind took swift action.
Extend a digital lifeline to a community in need
Sacred Wind expanded the capacity of its core network tenfold while the virus raged. Sacred Wind uses the Juniper Networks MX960 Universal Routing Platform for its 100-Gbps MPLS backbone and the Juniper Networks MX480 Universal Routing Platform and the ACX710 Universal Metro Router for the edge network.
Sacred Wind provides Internet and phone services to about 300 businesses on the Navajo Nation, including tribal government, individually owned Native American businesses, health clinics, social services, senior center, chapter houses, centers for economic development, and educational head-start facilities.
Sacred Wind also works with the Navajo Nation police department to provide communication services for a public safety answering point where emergency calls are routed for dispatch to several Navajo chapters.
“Sacred Wind Communications is a company that is socially responsible,” says Virginia Yazzie-Ballenger, vice president of the Red Rock Chapter. “They look at the welfare of the whole community not just to provide internet service but how are the people doing, what their needs and they are willing to do what needs to be done to uplift people in my community.”
Keep families connected during the COVID-19 surge
“It was like a wartime effort,” Nicolaou says of the expansion of Sacred Wind’s network during the first wave of the pandemic.
When classrooms went remote, Sacred Wind collaborated with school leaders to help ensure students had fast, reliable Internet at home and in public spaces. The company met the heartbreaking need for faster Internet at the Gallup Indian Medical Center, where the only way to say goodbye to loved ones was over a tablet.
Sacred Wind technicians wheeled a temporary fixed-wireless tower to the Tohajilee chapter, just west of Albuquerque. “Within a few days, we provided 100-Mbps Internet to 200 families who never had Internet before,” she says.
With nearly half of the Navajo Nation living in poverty, access to broadband Internet can change people’s futures, foster economic growth, and enhance community safety.
“COVID was scary and uncertain, but it was also a blessing,” says Nicolaou. “For many years, Sacred Wind has been singing that rural areas need more broadband. Since the pandemic, everyone is singing the same song.”
Published September 2021