WHITE MOUNTAINS – With funding for the Navajo-Gila County Information Technology Consortium pending since last November, the group has re-applied for state and federal funding.
Their new application appears to be a long-awaited “re-boot” of the $61 million project, which would string 1,000 miles of fiber optic cable to 51 schools and libraries in Navajo and Apache Counties.
The original application, submitted in 2018-19, resulted in a variety of issues and controversy, including a protest by Cable One after the consortium awarded a multi-million dollar bid to Red Rock Telecommunications. Cellular One also filed a bid protest, but missed the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) deadline. The USAC oversees and administers federal funding on such projects.
There were also disagreements between the consortium and the Arizona Department of Education regarding the application’s funding status, reported in several stories published by the Independent last fall.
A new day
Despite the rocky road to broadband last year, the project team has re-grouped and re-applied for state and federal funding through the E-Rate program and USAC.
“Navajo County re-summited an application by the March 21 deadline for the 2019-2020 funding year,” said Arizona E-Rate Director Milan Eaton in a phone interview with the Independent on June 11. “They submitted to award their bid to ENA Technologies.”
“Now we wait for USAC to give funding approval for each project,” said Eaton. “If the project is funded, the Navajo County Consortium has until June 30, 2020 to complete the project.”
Eaton said that the consortium submitted a request for $537,000. The state- match portion, if approved, would be $51,000.
The new project proposal is similar to the first in scope. It still includes Navajo schools and libraries and some Gila County schools and libraries, according to Eaton.
At this time, Gila and Navajo counties have applied separately, but with overlapping project sites. This may ultimately provide a more manageable and “fundable” solution, officials say.
The Gila County consortium proposal includes connecting about 24 schools and libraries within Gila County.
“If the Navajo County consortium is approved before Gila County, we will go with that solution, which includes sites in both counties,” said Eaton.
“If Gila County is approved first, then we’ll help them get started there. And, the sites included in each project could change depending upon who is approved first,” he added.
“Our proposed project includes the Payson school district from Gila County and Winslow, Joseph City, Snowflake-Taylor, Holbrook, Blue Ridge and Show Low libraries,” said Navajo County Superintendent of Schools Jalyn Gerlich in a brief interview with the Independent on June 12. “It also includes most of the Navajo County libraries, south of I-40, as well as Heber-Overgaard because they now have options. It’s all about looking at what’s best for your county.”
“The vendor that was awarded the bid is Education Networks of America (ENA),” said Gerlich. “They have been awarded the full project, but we’re in the waiting mode so there’s not much else to add- it’s up to USAC.”
“We’re hoping to have funding awarded in the next 60 days so we can get started,” said Eaton. “Ideally, we could have two funded projects that are easier to manage.”