Gila County Wins $19 million Broadband Federal Funding

Gila County Wins $19 million Broadband Federal FundingEratePullQuoteWoody1

Gila County scored a big win this week with announcement of a $19 million award to expand broadband for education:  funding to build infrastructure providing high speed internet county-wide to every school and library. Success of this year’s application culminates more than six years’ dedicated work by a coalition of partners lead by Gila County Schools Superintendent Roy Sandoval and county leadership. They repeatedly applied through the federal ‘E-Rate’ program, which aggregates nationwide customer telecom fees to pay for rural schools and libraries expanded broadband connections.

“I cannot overstate how important this is to our schools and libraries, especially now that both institutions have been forced to take a significant leap forward with online instruction,” said Gila County Schools Superintendent Roy Sandoval. One popular saying holds that ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ but in this case I’ll ask you to picture an Amish barn-raising, and I want to thank the team who spent this past year pulling those frames, rafters and beams into place!”EratePullQuoteMilan1

Arizona Department of Education State Erate Director Milan Eaton predicts work should begin in the next 30 days and be complete within 24 months, adding: “the forward-thinking Gila County Leadership driven by Superintendent Roy Sandoval and Jacque Sanders will allow Gila County to take advantage of a once in a generation opportunity to provide high speed internet to the schools and libraries of Gila County at zero cost to the local community.”EratePullQuoteTimHumphrey

Thanks were echoed by Superintendent Sandoval. “Our Gila County Board of Supervisors -- Tommie Martin, Tim Humphrey and Woody Cline -- have made broadband access a priority, and committed county staff and resources to the paperwork and meetings that made this a reality. Arizona Department of Education’s State Erate Director Milan Eaton helped shepherd our application through the process. I am also deeply grateful to my compadre, County Librarian and Deputy County Manager, Jacque Sanders -- she dedicated countless hours to seeing this to fruition. And thanks to my office staff - they worked hard to get documentation from schools and districts across Gila County to make our application competitive, and a winner  -- and they kept track of it and kept me apprised during the application and approval process

Phoenix and Tucson residents with a competitive choice of providers for high-speed internet take their access for granted – but in rural communities, upgrading a school or library to broadband can be a “rising tide that lifts all boats” in the surrounding community. Gila County’s Board of Supervisors commissioned and approved a new strategic plan last year, and more recently funded a broadband study – emphasizing that reliable connectivity is key to economic development..”EratePullQuoteTommieMartin
Globe and Payson Libraries have fiberoptic connections and the ability to livestream Story Hour sessions and other enriching audio-video interactive events. Gila County’s less populace communities, especially those separated by  mountains, rivers and canyonlands, don’t have as reliable or speedy connections to the worldwide web.

A nationwide initiative of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the E-Rate program is funded through the Universal Service Fund (USAC). When the E-Rate program was established in 1996, only 14 percent of the nation's K-12 classrooms had access to the Internet. FCC funding complements efforts by states and local governments to bring advanced telecommunications and information services to schools and libraries – this year’s total was  $4.15 billion.

Approval came, in part, thanks to a competitive bid from CableOne -- now known as Sparklight. Complex mechanics of funding could still have burdened Gila County’s libraries or schools with a co-payment, but project partners extended special thanks to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, the Arizona Corporation Commission, the Arizona Department of Education and the Arizona State Library for partnering to create an additional grant program to assist with up to 20-percent of construction cost-share responsibilities. And that’s good news for Gila County taxpayers – whose tax bills remain unaffected. Grant funds will be paid directly by USAC to the contractor, with Arizona Department of Education State Erate Director Milan Eaton serving as project manager, and Gila County’s Finance Department as fiscal agent. EratePullQuoteGovernorDucey
“Yesterday’s broadband speeds cannot support the rapid innovation that is shaping K-12 education. Too many students, specifically in our rural areas, and in our tribal nations are missing out,” said Governor Ducey. “This is why Arizona is working to increase access to reliable, affordable broadband services so students can take full advantage of digital learning in the classroom and gain the skills necessary to succeed in today’s technology-driven economy."