Tue, Feb. 25

VV regional broadband cooperative focused

VERDE VALLEY -- In the 20 years since the World Wide Web was launched in 1990, the "net" has grown so rapidly that it has become a key system for commerce, entertainment and instruction. Verde Valley governments and others hope to make sure this region is not left behind in the future of the net.

There now are millions of web sites and billions of web pages in every language.

The Internet is so pervasive that you can connect with a hand-held phone walking down the street or from a screen built into the refrigerator. Many homes now have multiple computer systems and we throwing out old ones like a discarded appliance.

Those without the connection are threatened with being left in the "dark ages," and the "net" even threatens to put paper products, like newspapers and magazines to bed.

Part of the America Recovery and Revitalization Act is aimed at closing the "digital divide" between those who are "online" and those that are not.

There is a lot of federal stimulus money out there to expand internet linkage to un-served and underserved communities across the U.S. as well as to expand the number of "pipes" that serve communities and expand the "bandwidth" they provide.

The Verde Valley is looking for some of that money.

The total amount seems staggering at $7.2 billion. You would think that any community could put out a bucket and catch some cash.

"It seems like a boatload of money. But a regional program might cost $1.5 million to start." That's the caution of City of Sedona Economic Planner Jodie Filardo.

She and Sherry Bailey, Clarkdale's Community Development Director are heading up the Verde Valley Broadband Initiative, which envisions a cooperative effort, like the Rural Electric Cooperative, that brought electricity to rural areas.

Last week, Filardo was in Albuquerque as part of a seminar on the maze of grants available for the stimulus funds.

\The distribution will be through two government agencies, the department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition to governments and Internet service providers, there would be a broad number of different types of partners, all who would be members and even shareholders in the project. That effort would bring data at much faster internet speeds and a capacity much greater than we have seen.

Part of the current problem for a government led program is assembling the kind of data required to complete the application, says Filardo. Providers tend to have that data more readily available to them than the rest of us.

But, individual companies are not likely to be successful, says, Filardo, because the government wants "partnerships."

So a refocusing of the initiatives direction has been to reach out to internet service providers in the Verde Valley to form a partnerships, so we can "combine forces into one giant application."

Filardo says, the cooperative initiative is now focusing on a two-stage effort.

Since gathering the data will take time program with comprise the second stage plan.

After talking with others that attending the grant writing session, Filardo found that while the Verde Valley region could be manageable, some regional efforts are proposed to span states, projects that may not be politically feasible.

The first round of applications will be accepted beginning Aug. 14.

A grant application that will be launched in the first round would seek funds for a public computer center as part of the Clarkdale library.

"It is manageable in scope and size," notes Filardo.

Clarkdale, Tuesday, was the first Verde community to approve a resolution supporting the application for the stimulus funds.

Sedona is expected to approve the same resolution in August.

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