Gila County wants to know what if any role it can play to bring affordable and redundant broadband to county residents and businesses.
On Tuesday, the county board of supervisors unanimously approved paying consultants $12,000 for a master broadband plan.
The supervisors recognize that affordable and reliable broadband service is currently unavailable in Gila County and while it would like to jump in and offer a solution, it needs the help of an outside group to explore options.
Homero Vela, assistant county manager, said EntryPoint Networks, which was awarded the bid, would help the county explore building an open network that invites competition, which could support economic growth throughout the county.
“The county does not have the expertise required to accomplish this project and is seeking a consultant who has a proven track record in such endeavors,” according to a county memo.
EntryPoint was the only company that responded to the county’s request for proposals.
Supervisor Tommie Martin pointed out if EntryPoint’s work in Ammon, Idaho is any indication of what it could do for Gila County, it could mean a “true local network” where providers compete to offer service — leading to far lower prices for broadband services than currently offered.
In Ammon, a community of 16,500, the residents own the fiber so the broadband infrastructure is more like a public utility.
According to an article recently published by Fast Company, Ammon residents opt into the network, which the city began building in 2011. The city manages the network in the same way it handles water or road maintenance services. Residents and businesses have the option of owning the fiber upfront, by paying about $3,200, or paying for it monthly over the course of 20 years. They then pay an additional fee for internet service.
Vela said EntryPoint will study all the options available in Gila County, including APS’s proposal to bring broadband to the area by stringing fiber lines along its towers from the Valley as well as Sparklight’s proposal to bring broadband from the White Mountains area.
EntryPoint is currently working with several communities around the country on similar master broadband plans, including Mountain Home, Idaho; Riverton, Utah; Redding, Calif.; Quincy, Mass.; and Wilbraham, Mass.
EntryPoint, in its proposal, said it would look at the conceptual design for a fiber to home/business network supported by a reliable middle mile fiber network. It will provide a projected cost breakdown for network materials and installation. It will provide information on current network models throughout the country, including municipal networks, like Ammon.
Vela said he hopes a more resilient broadband system in Gila County could help with economic growth. For years, the county’s population has been stagnant, possibly the result of younger people leaving the county for better paying, tech-driven jobs.
In making its pitch for the contract, EntryPoint wrote, “EntryPoint is the only organization that has implemented a live, working system with ... open access, software defined network management and use of network virtualization to deploy a ‘virtual wire’ for multiple services simultaneously.”
It went on to state, “EntryPoint is the only company in North America that has the experience and understanding necessary to advise you ... our showcase project in Ammon, Idaho has the lowest internet costs in North America. Harvard University’s Berkman Center said the following about our showcase client — ‘Ammon’s platform allows an extraordinary level of competition, innovation and experimentation by businesses, local government, and residential users alike. And Ammon’s model provides very little, if any, financial risk to the city. The use of virtualization technology to enable retail competition is rare in the United States, and Ammon’s use of virtualization is especially sophisticated.’”
Gila County also wants EntryPoint to assist with community and partner engagement in developing the master plan for broadband services.
Responding to this part of the county’s request, EntryPoint stated, “Community engagement and customer acquisition are the most important and often most overlooked aspects of a project.”
It plans a multi-faceted public education campaign about the potential system.
The contract with EntryPoint is for $1,000 per month for a 12-month period to develop the broadband master plan.
EntryPoint Networks is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.