Homero Vela of Gila County, Deputy County Director, has worked for the past 18 months with partners on a broadband strategic plan across Gila County. Project partners include Kimley-Horn, EntryPoint Networks and BPG Designs.
The group gathered data, including possible costs. Vela and various partners provided the information to the Gila County Supervisory Board in a working session on March 30, which included a two-hour presentation and a 44-slide PowerPoint program.
Vela told the board that it could take up to five years to build a reliable and cost-effective broadband system. Once in place, this is an infrastructure upgrade of at least 50 years.
The county hopes the project will increase redundancy, speed, reliability and lower costs. The aim is to create a network open to all Internet service providers, available nationwide and allowing users to subscribe or unsubscribe.
The vision of the plan: to create a county-wide broadband district; BB District installs broadband infrastructure and makes it available at low cost to Internet Service Providers (ISPs); requires homeowners to pay fiber installation costs – $ 4,000 (estimate) as a lump sum payment or on a 20 year plan; the BB District operates and maintains the network via a monthly maintenance fee – $ 20 / month (estimate); a third party manages software that enables online, real-time selection of ISPs.
To provide county-wide broadband service, Vela said they need to address three things: the first mile, the middle, and the last mile.
For the first mile, Vela said there had been discussions about the county building its own “first mile” to Phoenix, but the cost was prohibitive at $ 4.9 million, and because the project crosses federal lands, it would take a long time to do so. all the necessary education – and money.
The best solution is to rent two “dark” lines in the fiber networks already in place from APS and SRP. Vela said the cost would be around $ 6,800 for each line. The problem with that option would force the county to pay for lines from Phoenix connecting to major utility fiber network centers, he said.
The problem with working with Lumen, CenturyLink, and Sparklight is that they are both dead ends in Payson, failing to provide critical redundancy or, in Lumen’s case, reliability.
The goal is to make broadband service accessible and affordable for everyone in the county. On average, residential customers pay $ 89 per month for Internet costs and commercial users pay $ 141.
If the county leases lines to APS and SRP (it would have to work with both companies because SRP is in the south and APS serves the north), Vela said a diverse backbone fiber route connecting the leased lines should be built.
For the middle mile, Vela said the plan currently links paths with fire stations and government buildings across Gila County. It would use the main fiber optic distribution centers within each identified location.
Currently, the main locations identified are: Payson – Sheriff’s Office, 108 W. Main St .; Globe – Emergency Management Office, 5515 S. Apache Ave .; and Tonto Basin – Sheriff’s Office, 28449 N. Hwy. 188. In addition, hubs would be located at the 21 fire stations in Gila County.
The cost split for building the middle mile to the county government and fire stations would range from $ 383,604 in Tonto Basin to $ 6 million in East Payson.
The proposed design for the last mile: connect the service areas of the fiber optic network to the regional areas of Gila County; design costs are based on a half mile radius of the fire stations.
Installation of nodes and pedestals – fiber routes from fiber distribution hubs to nodes and fiber routes from nodes to bases.
Vela said the nodes can serve up to 200 homes or businesses and the plinths can serve up to six homes or businesses.
The estimated costs for building the last mile, from node to pedestal, would be $ 330,515 if the construction was underground, or $ 1,653 for the customer. If the construction was aerial, the total cost would be $ 97,875 or $ 489 per subscriber. Vela said the cost of subscribers will decrease as the number of subscribers increases.
The strategic plan also explores the financing mechanisms for the multi-million dollar cost of the broadband system being discussed.
• A cooperative – A business owned and operated by the people who use its products and services and benefit from what the business offers. The county would support a group of community and business leaders to create a co-op that would provide broadband service to areas of the county.
• A public-private partnership – The county would seek and establish a partnership with a private company to support the expansion of broadband, increase the resilience of the existing network and reduce the cost of broadband services.
• Improvement District – A district / special tax area, usually created to meet a need and to enable the delivery of services in an area that might otherwise be prevented from receiving those services. Homeowners pay for improvements based on assessed future benefits – either by paying up front or by financing the costs. The financed costs are covered by a deposit. The county would assess property taxes until the bonds are paid off.
Vela said that one of the problems with creating a Broadband / Telecommunications Improvement District is that there are currently no identified services that could be covered by an identification and that would require a change in state law.
It requires landowners to petition the county for the formation of the district and area of the district determined by the community concerned.
Another source of funding is a variety of different federal grants and loans to create or improve broadband service. Several were created in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but Vela said there was only one that could apply to the county – Americans unserved from the US Department of Commerce, he has $ 300 million and does not require correspondence from a successful county in a request for funds. The Community Connect grant, with $ 100,000 to $ 3 million available, is another possibility, requiring a 15% cash match; there is also a broadband loan and loan guarantee program, offering between $ 100,000 and $ 10 million and requiring 10% equity.
Additionally, President Biden has just come up with a massive infrastructure program, which includes money for broadband needs.
1. Determine the priority and the best method to add resilience in the first mile
• Priority 1 – Work with APS and ISPs to determine the effectiveness of the operator’s hotel in Payson to add a first mile connection to Phoenix via APS leased fiber.
• Priority 2 – Work with SRP to complete a redundant path through Globe to the Internet Point of Presence in Phoenix and continue to analyze the government facilities loop for the Globe region.
2. Survey communities on the interest and commitment to build and pay for a fiber optic network.
• County and interested communities / ISPs are working to develop out of the box network designs and costs.
• Use BPG cost models to develop conceptual costs – determine the feasibility of costs for the community.
• Total cost from point of presence in Phoenix to homes / businesses – first, middle and last mile.
• Cost based on cost sharing of fiber lines leased from Phoenix. Prepare the grant submission to design / cost a ready-to-go project.
3. County and interested communities / ISPs are working on grant funding for the intermediate mile using the fire district concept to extend the fiber optic network to the communities.
• Sponsorship legislation to allow broadband improvement districts.
• Work in partnership with ISPs.
• Support other complementary projects throughout the region.
• Strengthen connection to Phoenix – SRP and APS connectivity.
• Work on legislation for the last mile.
• Pursue grant opportunities for the intermediate mile.
• Build a public safety backbone – Connect fire stations and county facilities.
• Incremental path to full county connectivity.