When it comes to broadband, the message is, “If you build it, they will come.”
That’s what Payson residents, business owners, staff and councilors heard when they attended a meeting hosted by the Broadband Consortium Tech Committee on June 7. The meeting focused on attempts to add capacity and reliability for both Rim Country and the White Mountains. Both regions have suffered repeated, debilitating outages in the past two years.
“It definitely has merits for the community — the public safety aspect of it, the benefits for the other surrounding communities ... the business opportunities,” said Nick Robinson, a broadband consultant and member of the committee.
Robinson, along with Mac Feezor and Greg Friestad — the other members of the committee — came to the meeting armed with maps, examples of the fiber to be installed and lot of information to help attendees understand how a reliable high-speed connection to the internet will change the face of business in Rim Country.
The meeting came in the wake of a Payson Town Council decision to seek more information before deciding whether to provide a requested $90,000 annually for the next 10 years to support the effort to provide fast, reliable, high-capacity internet. Several of the Payson council members who voted to get more information attended the session.
Cable One has agreed to provide a new line from Forest Lakes to Payson, with the help of a $2 million pledge of assistance from the MHA Foundation. However, Cable One is seeking additional help to complete an estimated $8 million connection to Phoenix, creating an outage-proof loop for both Rim Country and the White Mountains.
Bobby Davis, Payson’s economic development specialist, said he’s had businesses decide not to set up shop in Rim Country because of the state of broadband.
“It is an infrastructure we’ve got to have,” he said, “so you can sell your community.”
Feezor said broadband lies at the heart of many economic development meetings he attends.
“I’m on the Gila County IDA (Industrial Development Authority). We do economic development — that is why we are addressing this and chasing it,” he said. “You have power, water, road and broadband — and you have Payson because it sells itself.”
Payson Councilor Jim Ferris could see the benefits.
“We can have the logistics for manufacturing and telecommunications businesses,” he said.
Feezor said with reliable, high-speed broadband, telemedicine would be possible — addressing a dangerous shortage of doctors and specialists in rural communities. Local doctors and patients could consult with specialists in the Valley, who could also monitor everything from heart disease to diabetes without making patients drive to the Valley.
Robinson reminded the group outages put a real damper on business.
“Those could easily be a 20-hour repair,” he said, when the one-way cable into the region is cut anywhere along a 100-mile length.
It wasn’t hard to imagine how much business a store would lose if it was down for almost a whole day.
Everyone remembered the consequences of cell phones going down with the CenturyLink outages.
“If I can’t get hospital service, if I can’t buy gas, that is a hazard to me if my cell phone goes down,” said Feezor.
Darlene Younker agreed with the difficulties.
“That is an excellent point. If I as a resident have a medical emergency at my home and if my cell phone can’t work, I will suffer,” she said.
Robinson added that event promoters could live stream events, if the broadband had the capacity and reliability.
“Today, if you do a video, you have to drive back to the office and download it then upload it,” he said. “It would be quite interesting to see (with broadband) if they look at the capability of the location and ask, ‘Can we can do x – y – z?’”
Realtor Cliff Potts argued reliable broadband is an investment in the community.
“What funds Payson is the sales tax,” he said. “View this as an investment of the businesses that serve the people of Payson. Payson needs to invest in their tax base from time to time.”