Sacred Wind Communications’ success fulfills a promise
Sacred Wind Communications began business in 2006 with no furniture, six employees, and a promise to a community in need of communication services. Three years later, the New Mexico telecom has fulfilled its promise by offering voice and data services to a population where none were available before and is now a growing telecommunications company.
The company serves the people of the Navajo nation within New Mexico. The Navajo nation comprises the largest Native American tribe in the United States with more than 168,000 residents. The majority of the Navajos live in extremely rural areas in a desert, and in some cases, mountainous environment. Until recently, providing residential voice service to the Navajo nation was almost a technical impossibility.
Despite the environmental and technical challenges of offering reliable communication services to the Navajo, there was a dire need. Cellular service is spotty at best in the Navajo nation. Lives had been lost because people were unable to call for help after accidents or illness had struck. From an economic perspective, the lack of communication options severely hindered the ability of the Navajo to sell the beautiful arts and crafts many of them depend upon for their income.
This need was something that John Badal, Sacred Wind’s CEO, saw firsthand while he was president of Qwest in New Mexico. He was invited to a community meeting at the Nageezi Chapter in the northern part of the state. Chapters in the Navajo nation are much like counties in other parts of the country. Janice Badal, John’s sister and current Executive Director with the company’s non-profit subsidiary Sacred Wind Communications Community Connect, Inc., said the meeting left a lasting impression on her brother.
“It was an important event for the community to hear what he had to say,” Janice said. “They brought out children to perform a song as a way to bless the endeavor of bringing telephone service to the chapter and the rest of the Navajo nation.”
After learning more about the need for communication services and seeing how important it was to the residents of the chapter, John promised the community that he would somehow make reliable telephone service available to the area.
John later retired from Qwest, but he didn’t forget about his promise to the Nageezi Chapter and the rest of the Navajo nation. To fulfill the promise, he brought together a team of experienced telecom veterans that included Gil Arviso, John Landstrom, Vera Landstrom, and Ben Romero. They then put together a plan to start a telephone company to serve the needs of the Navajo and prosper despite the challenges it would face.
The plan began with the goal to offer basic telephone service. By December of 2006, the company’s founders had arranged financing and gained regulatory approval to purchase a small section of copper plant in the Navajo nation from Qwest. With this small beginning, Sacred Wind Communications opened for business to great interest from the community.
Badal said, “When we opened for business, we had six employees, no furniture, and hundreds of people calling us to request phone service.”
While the copper plant they had purchased from Qwest was underdeveloped and very limited in the number of people it could serve, the founders of Sacred Wind had plans to greatly expand the company’s coverage. They developed a plan to use a combination of the original copper plant in conjunction with fiber optic and wireless technology to bring residential phone service to homes that had never had it before. Though the company had the needed technology, financing, and community support, rapidly expanding Sacred Wind’s footprint was still difficult.
“Right-of-way is the greatest challenge we face,” Badal said. “All Navajo land is sovereign so we can’t install poles or any equipment without many upfront approvals. For us to install plant requires environmental, archaeological, and fish and wildlife surveys, plus approval from many different tribal and government agencies.”
The environment of Sacred Wind’s territory also plays a significant role in how fast it can increase its footprint. There are great distances involved to connect the Navajo communities and chapters. Badal said they even discovered small communities as they went about the process of installing new equipment. The desert and mountains add challenges and even the dirt roads that connect Navajo communities can be problematic as they turn to mud when it snows or rains.
Though their work has been difficult, they have made significant progress. They now have about 2,700 access lines spread throughout their territory. They also have 40 employees, including many Navajo. Besides providing communications service to the tribe, an important goal for the company is to hire as many members of the tribe as possible.
Badal said the company also is in the early stages of offering Internet service. The company began its venture into data services by acquiring a $436,451 grant to open a high-speed Internet lab at the Huerfano Chapter. The lab, which is located in the eastern sector of the Navajo nation, is the only one available in New Mexico on Navajo lands. Badal said the company received a second grant to open an eCommerce center to help local residents expand their market for the arts and crafts they create. Sacred Wind is now beginning to offer high-speed Internet access to its residential customers to go along with their phone service.
“People are thrilled to have the opportunity to have phone service and now their kids have the opportunity to research homework assignments,” Badal said. “The opportunities we’re creating give us a real passion for the work we all do.”
MACC is proud to have played a role in helping Sacred Wind on its mission to provide much needed telecommunication services to the Navajo people. Jan Evans, the company’s Director of Business Office and Technical Support Staff, said MACC’s support and customer service have been a tremendous benefit to the company. MACC helped Sacred Wind implement automatic switch provisioning that Evans said will save the company a valuable amount of work on the part of her employees. Once the system was in place, MACC representatives helped Sacred Wind transfer existing customer information into the new switch, which saved the company thousands of dollars in conversion expenses. We look forward to helping Sacred Wind Communications address any other challenges that they meet in the course of their important work.