NAVAJO & APACHE COUNTIES — The Arizona Commerce Authority has awarded a grant to help string a high-speed, fiber optic line that could help reduce the chance of outages in the White Mountains.
The project grant of up to $1 million will go to Sparklight, formerly Cable One. The company is already laying a new, high-speed line from Heber down to Payson, which could ultimately reduce the risk of outages in the White Mountains.
Sparklight partnered with the MHA Foundation in Payson to string the new line, which can carry up to 2 gigabytes per second. The MHA Foundation provided some $2 million to get the project started, which means it is “shovel ready,” one of the requirements for the state construction grant, which has a cap of $1 million. The company will have to front the money, with payment coming later from the state.
If the Sparklight line is connected to the existing CenturyLink line running from Phoenix to Payson through Camp Verde, the new line could also complete a loop to provide redundant service to the area. If that happens, the region would be largely freed from the prolonged outages that have hampered businesses and economic development.
Both the Apache County and Navajo County oficials have said redundant, high-speed internet connections are crucial to economic development – both to lure new businesses and attract “telecommuters” – who can live in rural areas but remain connected to freelancing and “gig economy” jobs in urban areas.
In addition, the federal government has provided millions in added funding to string new, high-speed lines to schools and libraries, including many in Navajo and Apache counties.
Currently, Arizona Public Service (APS) plans to string a line on existing power poles from Phoenix to its coal-fired power plant near Joseph City – between Holbrook and Winslow. That line could also connect to both the new Sparklight line as well as the existing network in the White Mountains. The communities of the White Mountains mostly sit at the end of a one-way line, which means a break in the line anywhere between the White Mountains and Phoenix can produce a long outage.
If Sparklight can complete the new line and connect to the APS line, a break on one part of the line would instantly re-route the signal to the other part of the loop, preventing an outage while the break is repaired.
Gila County has launched an effort to determine whether it could play a role in spreading the signal from such new, high-speed lines throughout the region. Other cities have done that to increase the speed and reliability of the internet network that has become increasingly vital to economic development – especially in currently underserved rural areas.
The Sparklight project is already underway, with plans to connect Payson to the existing network in the White Mountains later this year.
Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org