If talk could fix Rim Country’s slow, outage-prone internet, we’d be in great shape.
But as the Payson Town Council learned at its Oct. 8 meeting, so far it’s mostly talk without a solution to the region’s broadband woes.
The Payson council has remained aloof from the efforts to improve broadband service so far, leaving the heavy lifting to Gila County and the MHA Foundation. But the town has sent Trever Fleetham to the county’s planning sessions — and last week considered setting up a citizens committee.
In the meantime, everything’s a muddle.
As it stands, two broadband companies, CenturyLink and Sparklight have trunk lines ending in Payson. But unless someone figures out how to get the companies to connect or build a new line to Phoenix — Rim Country will still lose broadband and likely cellphone service due to a cut along either line.
CenturyLink has a middle-mile fiber line that comes down from Camp Verde through Pine. CenturyLink’s line provides most of the broadband service to Rim Country. Yet hungry squirrels, careless backhoe operators, floods, wayward garbage trucks, vandals and fires have cut internet and cellphone service over the entire region.
When a Payson resident died in 2015, a group of concerned citizens, including some retired from a career in broadband, set out to convince Sparklight to bring a middle-mile fiber from Show Low to Payson.
This new line has much greater capacity, but only those near the highway will have access to Sparklight’s fiber.
With the help of a multi-million-dollar federal E-rate grant, Sparklight will branch off to build middle-mile spurs to schools and libraries in Young, Pine and Tonto Basin expanding its reach.
It helps to have two middle-mile providers, though. Sparklight has said it will initially serve business along the route of the cable. If the CenturyLink line goes down, cell service might still be available, providing the cellphone companies contract with Sparklight.
So now Payson sits with two trunk lines ending in town, which still leaves the area vulnerable to outages.
Fleetham, the town’s management associate, has attended five Gila County meetings to create a Strategic Broadband Plan. He, along with representatives from Star Valley, Gila County, Miami, Globe, Hayden and Winkelman, have hashed out a plan to provide a fiber optic network that would offer cheaper access to the internet.
The committee creating the county’s broadband plan hopes to help the end user pay less for streaming services.
With the help of EntryPoint, a firm that has helped other communities such as Ammon, Idaho create their own end user network, the committee has spent the last six months exploring ideas on how it would all work.
In a presentation to the council, Fleetham explained the county would own the cable that comes to a resident’s home. To pay for the infrastructure and upkeep, the county would charge a modest $20 on the monthly bill.