Can local internet providers carry the load?

APACHE & NAVAJO COUNTIES – The need for fast, accurate information during the coronavirus pandemic is critical.

The lack of high-speed broadband in rural areas like the White Mountains becomes glaringly obvious during times of crisis.

Cellular One Business Solutions, Frontier Communications, Hughes Net, Max Internet (formerly Synchromax), and Sparklight may be experiencing peak demand. As area children return from spring break to doing their schoolwork at home, online learning and classes are expected to tax the system even more.

Can the service providers handle the impact?

Cellular One – In “A Letter to Our Community,” Cellular One assured customers that they are “watching closely as developments unfold around COVID-19 so that we can strive to protect the health and well-being of our customers and team members.”

As of March 17, the company temporarily closed their store locations but say they “ … intend to keep our network going strong for you!” writes CEO Judd Hinkle.

While they were unable to answer specific questions from the Independent, the letter offers service through the Customer Care Center at 1-800-730-2351.

Frontier Communications — The Independent reached out to Frontier Communications locally to inquire about the reliability and stability of their Internet service during the COVID-19 crisis which has created heavy usage with so many people working from home and kids playing games on the Internet.

Though the local office is answering phones and their employees continue to work, there is no public traffic allowed in their office at this time. The Independent contacted Javier Mendoza, Corporate Communications and External Affairs Vice President.

“The network continues to perform well with a slight uptick in bandwidth consumption at certain times. Frontier’s engineers monitor our network 24x7 in real time,” writes Mendoza. “Anticipating increased demand for telework, distance learning, and connectivity services, Frontier is implementing additional capacity,” he said.

Hughes Net - Satellite internet company Hughes Net did not respond to the Independent by press time but their social media page indicates they have taken steps to “help students and teachers at home.”

“... (W)e are prioritizing educational tools and platforms on our network,” adds the post. “If you have trouble accessing an online educational site, email a description of the issues you are experiencing to us at EduHelp@Hughes.Net.”

Max Internet – According to Owner-Operator Linda Brimhall McLelland of Max Internet, formerly Synkromax, which serves the Taylor, Snowflake and surrounding areas, her techs report that “Our network is running smoothly.”

“But, McLelland reported via email to the Independent that they were “... seeing an increase in traffic since the COVID-19 virus” and that “The usage gap has widened but not to the point where the service is bad...”

“Monitoring usage on the MAX Internet network is something we do constantly in order to ensure every customer is getting their fair share of speed and having a good experience. We have plenty of bandwidth and there is plenty to go around for all,” assures McLelland.

“Because of the heavy usage during the COVID-19 virus, we are asking our customers to please monitor and be considerate of their usage because heavy usage will affect not only their experience but others on the network,” also wrote McLelland.

“There is plenty of bandwidth to go around for all if we can keep in mind these few items of consideration … “If there are devices running in the home and no one is watching or listening, turn them off. If kids are in their rooms gaming, while streaming music, or watching a movie on Netflix and looking at videos on Facebook at the same time, you probably are not going to be able to do your work from home without problems.”

Sparklight – In a March 27 press release,  Sparklight noted “We understand the importance of fast and reliable online connectivity under normal circumstances, but especially now when people … are accessing work, education, entertainment, and other content from home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” said Ken Johnson, Senior Vice President of Technology Services.

Over the past three years, the company has invested more than $600 million in technology, equipment, and infrastructure upgrades , the press release stated.

When the Independent asked Sparklight about the capacity of internet services as demand increases, they said they are “prepared to shift network routing and enable redundancies if needed ...”

As of March 13, Sparklight made unlimited data available on all internet services for 30 days. They are also offering payment deferrals and waiving late fees for its customers for 60 days.

“We live and work in the communities we serve and these are our friends and neighbors impacted by effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19), so we want to do our part to help,” said Julie Laulis, President and CEO.

Other providers in the area that provide fixed wireless services or DSL include TWN Communications, Choice Broadband and Earthlink.

The Arizona E-Rate program is working to expand internet availability to students through school campuses. More information will be provided after the logistics are worked out.

If you are a business, church or other organization offering a free WiFi hotspot and would like to be added to our list, please email lsingleton@wmicentral.com.

Reporter Barbara Bruce contributed to this report.

Reach the reporter at

lsingleton@wmicentral.com

Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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