Rim Country suffered another broadband outage on Labor Day reportedly caused by a vehicle accident in Pine.
Local wireless broadband providers report the outage started around 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 and service was restored around 12:30 a.m. Reports are that a trash truck hooked a line, knocking out service, said Pine-Strawberry Fire Chief Gary Morris.
An unrelated vehicle crash occurred at mile marker 272 on State Route 87 near Pine at the same time of the outage. No one was hurt, according to the Department of Public Safety, but the DPS troopers on scene could not reach the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department for help.
Instead, they reported the accident to the Gila County Sheriff’s Office because “phone lines were reported to be down in the area when troopers attempted to contact the fire department,” said DPS spokesman Bart Graves.
The situation concerns Morris.
“When we lost cell service, we can’t report emergencies,” he said.
While they have radios, the fire department keeps them on fixed channels.
“We don’t scan most of the time,” said Morris.
Broadband outages have occurred regularly since 2014. These outages shut down Rim Country’s commerce and communications.
The first significant outage, in 2014 resulted from a squirrel chewing a wire. Reasons for other outages range from vandalism to cut lines during construction.
Then in 2017, Payson resident Zach Fisher died on State Route 87 after driving his motorcycle south to pick up a cellphone signal from Mount Ord.
As he returned to town, Fisher hit an elk and died when bystanders could not call first responders because of a lack of cell service.
Since that time, a group of local residents formed a broadband consortium. Many members came from the broadband industry. They, along with a $2 million donation from the MHA Foundation, enticed Sparklight to bring a line to Payson from Show Low.
Morris blames CenturyLink for “not providing good service” for the outages.
CenturyLink provides what we call the middle mile of broadband service. CenturyLink has a trunk fiber line running from Camp Verde through Fossil Creek and then down from Pine to Payson.
But it’s that one-way in and one-way out that causes the outages. Cut any part of that line between Rim Country and Camp Verde and broadband service fizzles.
Only a redundant loop will end outages.
But that creates a whole new set of issues.
Once Sparklight completes its trunk line to Payson, it could partner with CenturyLink to complete a loop. No one in Rim Country, nor representatives from either company, have discussed the companies working together.
The consortium and Gila County have discussed partnering with APS to string broadband fiber along power lines, since APS has plans to create its own broadband connection from Phoenix to its Cholla power plant using its power lines. However not much has been said about that option in months.
Sparklight representatives have discussed laying fiber from Payson to Phoenix but have provided no definitive information on when or if this project will ever come to fruition.
Morris would just like an answer.
“The problem needs to be solved quickly,” he said.