The Arizona government has jumped on finding federal funding for broadband connections on campus through a program called E-Rate.

Since 2014, the E-Rate program has connected 77 percent of U.S. schools to broadband service — including the Payson Unified School District.

Now Arizona will seek $100 million in federal funds to expand broadband to schools and libraries throughout the state.

PUSD Director of Technology Vicky Andrews said the district would seek some of the funds, if the state succeeds in its bid.

“We are applying for funding through the Arizona Broadband Initiative to connect the District MDF (Main Distribution Facility) on the high school campus to PES and JRE via fiber,” she said. “We should hopefully know if we will receive funding in the fall.”

The broader the band of Internet service, the faster and deeper the connection. This makes watching videos and audio easier and quicker — things needed for education tools available online.

But getting the beefed up Internet service to remote areas in Arizona has proven difficult. In many parts of Arizona, especially the Rim Country, challenging terrain includes mountains, rivers and steep canyons, which hampers construction and increases the installation cost.

“We have three sort of major urban hubs here, and once you start getting out of those hubs, connectivity presents a huge issue,” said Arizona Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat in a press release. “If you’re a telecom company and you go out to a small community in the deserts of southern Arizona and there’s 100 people, you don’t want to install million-dollar fiber there, because you’re not going to get a return on your investment.”

E-Rate uses fees paid by telecom companies’ customers through their monthly bills to pay to connect schools and libraries to broadband service.

In Payson, E-Rate has allowed the district to provide students one-to-one computing capabilities — a necessity as the new state AzMERIT test is designed to be used on the computer.

Now, however, the federal government might just pull the rug out from the E-Rate program, or significantly change how schools qualify for E-Rate.

In 2015, the conservative Heritage Foundation pushed to phase out the program in a budget recommendation.

contact the reporter at: mnelson@payson.com

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