The Future of Broadband in Big Park
When my wife and I moved to the Village of Oak Creek just over four years ago I never considered Internet connectivity. Had I done so, my choice of locations may have been different.
That’s because I still work part-time and teach business and economics around the world. My classes are taught primarily online, especially after the pandemic. Once we settled in, I quickly discovered my broadband service was woefully inadequate. To teach classes online I needed to check into a local hotel so I could get upload Internet speeds necessary to broadcast my classes live and reliably.
This reality started my journey to improve broadband in Big Park.
I have spent my career as a community economist focusing on the impacts of policies and infrastructure, or the lack thereof, on local level economies. Last year my firm, Summit Economics, completed a white paper on the topic. It can be found on the home page at summiteconomics.com. Our basic conclusion that viable communities in the future will need high-speed Internet. Communications infrastructure is becoming as important as good transportation access.
During the last year a number of things have happened. First Big Park missed out on a golden opportunity to get high speed Internet 10 to 20 times faster than our current service. Yavapai County subsidized Altice (aka Suddenlink or Optimum) to install fiber in Cornville and Rimrock. With speeds of 1,000 mbps, these communities will jump from the bottom to the top of Internet speed in the Verde Valley.
Here in Big Park, I believe speeds have improved, for me at least, but I still must be very careful when teaching or consulting virtually. Second, we have come to see more competition and choices such as fixed fiber, fixed wireless towers, and satellite; however, depending upon your location, choices may be limited. Furthermore, not all delivery channels will operate the same. The best source of reliably fast Internet will be fixed fiber delivered either in the ground or via APS above ground on existing electrical poles.
I think the last big chance to make sure Big Park and the Village are not left behind in the future of the Internet of things upon us. Last year federal legislation was passed. The Broadband Equity Access & Deployment (BEAD) act will provide funding to increase speeds to at least 100 mbps download and 20 mbps upload. This is roughly double the speeds we get in Big Park on average. And these would be baseline speeds with possible availability up to 1000 mbps.
To take our best shot at securing our futures, Big Park Council assisted with a survey that went out in early 2023. The results of the survey can be seen in the accompanying map (online) and table (below). The map shows that we appear to be utilizing Internet service providers in cluster locations where we can get the best service. Furthermore, no provider meets FCC recommended minimum speeds of 100/20 mbps. This means the VOC/Big Park community is clearly underserved and would qualify for BEAD funding. If we are unable to make fixed fiber pervasive throughout the community, we will be left with three options: 1) Accept what we have, 2) Pursue fixed wireless which involves construction of multiple towers to provide the signal and 3) connect via satellites where possible.
To get the fixed fiber, we are moving forward along multiple paths. These include: 1) Collaborate with the City of Sedona who has hired a consultant, 2) Reach out to Yavapai County together with the Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools and Library Director who appear to be leading the BEAD effort, and 3) pursue a relationship directly with the Arizona Commerce Authority who is heading the BEAD effort for Arizona.