(TNS) — A first-of-its-kind project is providing high-speed internet to more than 40 New Mexico homes on the Navajo Nation, with hundreds more on the way.

Sacred Wind Communications announced last week it has completed a project that brings fiber-optic cable to a housing development just south of Farmington through a partnership with the Navajo Housing Authority.

John Badal, CEO of Sacred Wind, said the project is a way to bring high-speed internet into a community that has largely been considered too rural to support it.

“We want our Navajo children to have the same opportunities to improve themselves as the students or the children who reside in urban areas of New Mexico,” Badal said.

The Navajo Nation, like many rural communities across the United States, has limited access to high-speed internet. Badal pointed to the region’s extremely low population density – roughly two homes per square mile across Sacred Wind’s territory – as a barrier to high-speed internet.

“It would be terribly unaffordable to try to stretch a copper mile or fiber a mile to reach a single home,” Badal said.

When Sacred Wind was founded in 2006, Badal said most of its customers were served using copper wire, a network he described as outdated and not suited for broadband internet.

Sacred Wind has attempted to bridge gaps in coverage through a mix of technologies, using fixed wireless towers in some areas to provide line-of-sight internet access, Badal said. Recently, however, the company has shifted its approach and is working to replace its network of copper cable with fiber-optic cable in specific developments managed by the Navajo Housing Authority.

The Navajo Housing Authority provides public housing on the Navajo Nation, managing more 8,500 housing units in the community. Badal noted that NHA developments are among the densest portion of the rural region, with up to 150 homes per square mile.

“It makes sense to target homes that are closer together,” Badal said.

Most customers can receive 25 megabits per second with copper, which Badal said is sufficient for a couple devices to send e-mail and do basic tasks on the internet. Fiber will bring speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, which opens up more functionality. Catherine Nicolaou, external affairs manager for Sacred Wind, added the new fiber can be helpful for students, who are increasingly asked to do homework on their computers.

“One hundred megabits is really going to level the playing field for these students,” Nicolaou said.

Installation is free to residential customers, and Badal said costs are comparable to what customers currently pay for slower speeds.

The first phase of the project brings fiber to around 45 homes in the Huerfano Chapter, located south of Farmington. Over the next three to four years, Badal said the plan is to build out a fiber network that can bring high-speed internet to more than 1,000 homes managed by the housing authority across northwest New Mexico.

“There’s no other company that’s positioned to do this, except for us,” Nicolaou said.

©2020 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.