APS fiber line plan

The three phases of the APS fiber optic project.

Another solution has been proposed to bring resilient broadband to Payson and northern Gila County.

At a Gila County Board of Supervisors work session July 16, APS said it is working on a plan that both benefits the company and could help put a stop to the frequent and extended broadband outages that have plagued Rim Country.

Neil Traver, division manager for APS, serving Gila and Navajo counties, told the supervisors the company has decided to run fiber optic lines from Phoenix to Payson and from Prescott to Flagstaff in 2019-20. The lines will run at the top of the large electricity towers already in place.

Where there is now “static neutral” wiring on the top of the towers, crews, via helicopter, will remove it and replace it with fiber line conduit.

APS will use some of the fiber optic strands for secure, closed broadband access to its substations, but the majority will be available to lease to other vendors — internet service providers.

“Broadband is part of every economic development conversation I have been a part of for years — and what APS can do to help,” Traver said.

He said APS is very active in advancing the economic development of the rural areas it serves and it needs to have its own internal internet available to keep the system secure and accessible.

The expansion of the APS fiber project will provide the necessary infrastructure for better broadband service in rural areas.

Traver said the project into Payson and Flagstaff — Phase 1 — should be completed by this time next year. Following that, the plan is to expand the line from the Payson area to the White Mountains in 2021 — Phase 2 — and then create a loop between Flagstaff and the White Mountains in 2022 — Phase 3.

“I’m really excited about it. Phase 1 is approved and it’s happening. When the loop is completed, there will be enough capacity to never have another issue,” Traver told the supervisors.

A broadband utility

Jeff Christensen, president of EntryPoint Networks, which helped the small community of Ammon, Idaho become an internet provider, also attended the recent supervisors meeting.

Christensen explained the idea of better broadband access by comparing it to two “road models” — the model that does not work is to have the likes of UPS and FedEx exclusively use different roads. The better model is to have a single road on which both can travel, along with any other business.

“Communication (broadband) is the economy. Control over access to the public internet is broken,” he said.

Christensen told the supervisors in five years there would be a new internet — a private internet, built for security and accessibility.

“We need accessible networks that are radically open. We need a second internet.”

His company, EntryPoint Networks, was founded with the vision to separate network infrastructure from services to make it possible to increase the number of services available to a user. He explained as things stand now, the owner of the infrastructure decides the services to which customers have access.

“Counties and cities should have local control of the infrastructure as a utility,” he said. Christensen added with local control, subscribers could become the focus, providing affordable access so everyone can get it.

“Build a plan for the future and that starts with the middle mile (which the APS fiber line project could provide),” he said.

That leaves the last mile to be reached by service providers. “Make it easy for service providers. It lowers cost.”

Homero Vela, assistant county manager, coordinated the work session. He said the need to explore broadband options for the county was based on just a few main points:

• It is not reliable; there have been at least three significant outages that lasted more than eight hours

• Broadband is not a luxury, it is an essential utility — it is used by everyone and we depend on it and use will only increase

• Any decisions made must be based on future needs, not what we need now

• It needs to be affordable and available to homes as well as businesses — rural areas need broadband more than urban areas

In addition to the APS and EntryPoint representatives, the supervisors also heard from Mac Feezor, a member of the county’s broadband consortium.

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