Tusayan council discusses broadband 'backbone'

Application submitted to ADOT for permission to begin construction

TUSAYAN, Ariz. — The Tusayan Town Council met March 22 with positive news for those waiting for broadband internet to make its way to Tusayan.

Town manager Eric Duthie reported that the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) had received the town’s application to begin the installation of fiber infrastructure along both sides of Highway 64.

The permit application is the first in a series of steps to bring fiber internet to Tusayan — if approved, the town can then pursue funding the construction of a “backbone” in which fiber can be laid. The backbone, which would be buried along both sides of Highway 64 near the edge of the ADOT right-of-way boundaries, could then be used to expand service to residents and businesses once a provider has been selected. The town would own and maintain the backbone infrastructure.

Conduits for fiber were previously approved by former Tusayan mayors Greg Bryan and John Rueter, although they were constructed on private property and may need some repairs to bring them up to current industry standards.

Vice mayor Becky Wirth expressed concerns about how the construction project would affect traffic flow through the town, especially during peak visiting season. Duthie said interruptions in town operations and traffic flow would be minimal, since the lines would be buried nearly 40 feet from the side of the highway, and holes would be drilled beneath the roadway for the sections crossing Highway 64 at both the north and south ends of Tusayan.

Duthie also reported that Grand Canyon School could also see upgraded internet in its future, thanks to a recent rule change by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC).

Along with other community representatives, Duthie attended the ACC’s meeting in Phoenix March 14, where the five-member regulating body voted unanimously to approve a measure allowing the state to reallocate monies specifically for broadband in rural communities.

Duthie explained that because of the rule change, the state would set aside approximately 8 million annually from the Universal Service Fund to help rural communities construct broadband networks.

“We explained our situation to them and they said that we would be a perfect candidate for the program,” he said.

Because of the rule change and an already-existing program called E-Rate, Grand Canyon School could see its internet upgraded significantly at a fairly low cost.

E-Rate is a federal non-profit program that helps schools and libraries receive broadband at a discounted rate. Additionally, E-Rate will match up to 10 percent of any funds provided by the state. For example, a project to install broadband internet at a school might cost $100,000. E-Rate provides a discount of 80 percent, bringing the school district’s cost for the project down to $20,000. Through the ACC rule change, the state can contribute 10 percent of the total cost, or $10,000, bringing the amount the school is responsible for down to $10,000. With E-Rate’s state match of 10 percent, the remaining $10,000 is covered, potentially resulting in zero costs to the school district.

Duthie pointed out that while a full 10 percent contribution and match is not guaranteed, the potential is there. And that, he said, sweetens the deal for another part of the equation in bringing broadband to Tusayan and Grand Canyon — finding a company willing to provide service.

CenturyLink is currently the sole provider of internet services to Grand Canyon, and has previously been reluctant to provide service to Tusayan because of a lack of infrastructure already present, according to Duthie.

“CenturyLink hasn’t been on board in the past because of the investment costs they would have to lay out to run fiber up here,” Duthie said. “By providing the backbone in Tusayan and infrastructure at the school … I’ve talked to them and they’re ready to work with us.”

In other council news, Duthie reported that the U.S. Forest Service denied the town’s permit application for a ground lease at its administrative compound. Duthie stated Tusayan District Ranger Danelle Harrison, who was responsible for the decision, would reconsider after being presented with new information.

The council is awaiting a contract from Hellas Construction, which is in negotiations to construct the Sports Complex. Duthie said the company indicated it can meet the town’s accelerated timeline for completion and hoped to begin work before the summer busy season.

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