Backers of a plan to bring redundant high speed internet to Rim Country took their case to the Payson Town Council on Thursday, but the council said it needs more information before making a commitment.
For the first time, MHA Foundation President Kenny Evans revealed publicly that the charity has put up $2 million to bring a high-speed trunk line from Show Low to Payson. The goal is to create a system less prone to outages with enough speed and capacity to jump-start economic development in an internet dependent age.
Cable One executives and Evans on Thursday asked the council to commit $90,000 annually for the next 10 years to help Cable One cover the cost of stringing another, high-speed, high-capacity line from Payson to Phoenix. This second line would create a crash-proof system and provide capacity for future growth.
Payson’s contribution would draw a matching contribution from the state, said Evans. Cable One will also approach Gila County for funding.
However, on a 4-3 vote, the council asked Evans and Cable One to come back on June 13 with more details on what the $90,000 annual commitment would cover and how the system would ultimately work.
“It is a little hard (to follow) since we have no documentation,” said Vice Mayor Janell Sterner.
She wondered if the new line would immediately improve service for all Rim Country residents.
Cable One Director and General Manager Dan Conrad could not promise immediate improvements for homeowners now getting service from CenturyLink and Suddenlink. However, businesses contracting directly with Cable One would see a jump in speed and capacity, he said.
The way the new line is currently constructed, it could still go down if it broke between Payson and Show Low.
Another way to provide a loop that prevents outages from a single line break would be for Cable One to connect its new, high-speed line to CenturyLink’s existing line, which comes from Camp Verde.
So far, the two companies haven’t come to an agreement.
In the cable world, providing service to customers is broken into three different phases or “miles.”
The “first mile” connects to the main hub of the internet. The “second mile” brings that signal into town. The “third mile” strings a line to a home or business.
Cable One would provide the second mile of internet service.
But that’s the most expensive link of all, requiring trenches, poles or hardware strung along highways and through canyons for 100 miles or more, he said. To offset the cost, Cable One would offer businesses from Show Low to Payson access, said Conrad. So with an extra $2 million from MHA, the company can afford to string a new line into Payson from the north sometime this year.
However, the high-capacity line down to Phoenix to create a “loop” poses a greater financial challenge. The terrain is rugged and there are no customers along the way to help cover the cost.
That’s why Cable One plans on reaching out to both the Town of Payson and Gila County for financial support to string cable to Phoenix, said Conrad.
“Aerial construction is about a $70,000 cost per mile, underground can be up to $100,000 per mile,” he said, “at minimum, (the line to Phoenix) is an $8 million expense ... if we could get a contribution from the town and county, the state would match that.”
After hearing the presentation, Councilor Barbara Underwood made a motion to support creating a line item placeholder in the upcoming budget. She also had reservations.
“I really feel there are a lot of questions. Who is all putting in money? Where is the money coming from and where are we going?” she said, “(but) I’m OK with tentatively putting it in.”
Mayor Tom Morrissey had a different point of view.
“I don’t feel we have enough information ... I don’t have all the facts and I’d like to have more facts,” he said. “I would like to see us come back next week to satisfy all concerned.”
Councilor Jim Ferris said the council understands the importance of improving broadband.
“We campaigned on how critical it is to have redundant internet,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to have an idea that we don’t understand the critical nature of this.”
In the end, councilors Underwood, Chris Higgins and Steve Smith voted for the budget line item. Morrissey, Sterner, Ferris and Suzy Tubbs-Avakian opposed it.
The council will revisit the issue on June 13 at 3 p.m.