A just-approved $39 million federal stimulus grant will provide a statewide network of microwave towers to boost Internet speed and availability in rural areas, including Gila County.
The system of 316 microwave towers will beam a high-speed Internet feed to some 280 “anchor institutions,” including Gila Community College, local schools, libraries and police agencies. It might even provide the key link in a wireless Internet system that would cover all of Payson.
First District Congressional Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and Payson Mayor Kenny Evans lobbied intensively in Washington to make sure that Payson was designated as one of the key hubs of the system. Payson is also now negotiating to add improvements to beam a wireless Internet signal throughout the area.
“Gila County, including Payson, will become part of the state’s broadband backbone,” said Joseph Wolfe, with Kirkpatrick’s office. “They will have direct access to the Internet and not have their connections routed through urban hubs. Local Internet service providers will be able to bring connections directly to consumers from these points.”
Evans said the new system will provide key connections for the eventual development of a high-speed system envisioned as part of an Arizona State University campus in Payson. Such a system could bring in real-time lectures from anywhere in the world, without the normal lags that plague slower connections.
Backers of the ASU campus have suggested the system will eventually not only offer multiple real-time connections to link classrooms with sites around the world, but make it possible for students to connect to servers and classrooms with laptops from anywhere in town.
The new set of microwave towers would provide a 100-300 mbps speed connection to a series of hubs, generally located at places like colleges and schools. That could boost the speed of many of the existing connections in Payson and provide new options for people that can’t now get high-speed Internet on a cable system. It could provide a boost even for people with a cable system. NPG Cable in Payson, for instance, currently offers a 10 megabyte connection, supporters said.
The proposed speeds are still substantially less than the speeds envisioned for the system that would connect to classrooms at the newly proposed ASU campus. Private providers, could use the network to provide connections to individual homes and businesses.
The U.S. Department of Commerce just made the $39 million award to GovNET, LLC, with money originally set aside by Congress as part of the recession-busting stimulus grants.
The grant was intended to focus on “underserved” rural areas that can’t get high-speed Internet connections on their own — especially areas like the sprawling, remote Navajo Reservation. The use of microwave towers in a line of sight arrangement throughout rural Arizona would get the high-speed signal to a network of key institutions.
The 280 anchor institutions will include 15 public safety entities like police and fire stations, 82 K-12 public schools, 15 libraries, 17 community colleges or universities, 26 health care providers and 26 state and local government facilities. Many of those hubs are on Indian reservations.
Wolfe said most of the towns in Gila County will have at least one anchor institution, with special emphasis on Globe and Payson. Other towns with a hub will include Miami, Pine, San Carlos, Superior, Tonto Basin, Winkelman and Young.
All told, the system should reduce the cost and improve high-speed connections to 481,000 households and 25,000 businesses. Private cable companies can plug into the network’s open system, lowering their costs and reducing the cost of expanding coverage.
“The resulting broadband network should significantly improve public safety, health care delivery and other critical government services,” concluded a fact sheet on the project provided by the Department of Commerce.