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The U.S. Commerce Department announced today that Pima County will receive a $30.3 million grant to expand high-speed internet infrastructure and increase internet access for residents in unserved or underserved areas.
The five-year grant from the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) will fund the creation of a 134-mile open-access fiber ring around the county. The open-access network can be made available to any viable carrier at a reasonable price to build the necessary infrastructure to connect unserved or underserved areas of the county.
The grant requires the County and local partners to contribute $12.5 million in local funds.
“This effort is a further example of all the great programs and services Pima County provides to help our constituents who struggle the most with all the costs and challenges associated with our modern world,” said District 1 Supervisor Rex Scott.
The fiber ring, or middle-mile infrastructure, consists of high-capacity fiber lines that carry large amounts of data at high speeds over long distances toward the end user. Pima County was awarded this grant as part of a federal $930 million expansion in high-speed internet.
“We live in a digital age, and if you want to grow and prosper as a community, everyone in the community needs to have access to the tools that bring opportunities for success,” said County Administrator Jan Lesher.
Large portions of Pima County have broadband rates below the grant requirements of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, according to the NTIA.
The most current data from the FCC indicated that nearly 10% of Pima County households had no broadband access and no internet. Data on individual communities that will be served by this grant showed that in some communities nearly 18% of the households had no broadband access or internet access at all.
Nearly one-third of the county population resides in the areas identified to be served by this project.
“No one in Pima County should be on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Lesher said.
“But connecting high-speed internet to rural areas or low-income areas is financially difficult for private internet service providers. This grant will make that investment so our community sees the return with higher employment, greater access to digital education resources, and small-business growth. A stronger, better, more prosperous Pima County is the benefit we will get on this investment of $43 million in public funds.”
The acquisition of the grant is the result of a collaborative effort through the Connect Pima initiative, led by the Pima County Public Library and the Pima County Information Technology Department. Connect Pima is an effort to ensure access to the Internet through the development of broadband infrastructure, the implementation of digital literacy initiatives, and increased access to devices and tools for connectivity throughout the County.
“We want to make sure that every Pima County citizen has access to affordable, sustainable, high-speed internet,” said Pima County Public Library deputy director Michelle Simon.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors on August 15, 2022, unanimously approved the submission of an application for the grant to the NTIA. The first phase of the project will begin with the new fiscal year. This work includes implementing the compliance requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as defined by the grant. Additional information on the project is on the Connect Pima webpage.
Examples of how individuals and the public will benefit from increased high-speed internet access:
- Parents of kids who are left behind as the digital gap widens.
- A nonprofit housing manager whose tenants need help to get online.
- A workforce program manager whose clients need digital skills for job placement.
- A family services or healthcare provider whose clients need broadband to access services for which they are eligible.
- A business manager who sees a need for more digitally literate employees or job applicants.
Pima County thanks its partners:
- American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations,
- Arizona Broadband Stakeholders Network COVID-19 Digital Access Task Force,
- Arizona Community Action Agencies,
- Arizona Department of Education – Office of Digital Teaching and Learning,
- Arizona State Library,
- Arizona Tech Council;
- Chicanos Por La Causa
- City of Tucson
- City of Tucson Housing and Community Development
- City of Tucson Office of Economic Initiatives
- Community Action Programs and Services OCHER
- Community Broadband Advocates LLC
- Cox Communications
- Goodwill Industries of Southern Arizona
- Interfaith Community Services
- Kevin Dahl – Ward 3
- Literacy Connects
- Pima Community College – Adult Basic Education for College and Career
- Pima Community College – Workforce Development
- Pima Council on Aging
- PPEP Inc
- Sahuarita Unified School District
- Tohono O’odham Nation Department of Health and Human Services
- United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona
- University of Arizona – College of Education
- We Care Tucson
The following County agencies are also instrumental in carrying out Connect Pima’s Mission: Pima County Public Library, Pima County Adult Probation, Pima County Community and Workforce Development. Pima County Development Services, Pima County Economic Development Office, Pima County Finance, Pima County Grants Management, and Innovation.
Pima County Health Department, Pima County Human Resources, Pima County Information and Technology Department; Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation; Pima County Office of Sustainability and Conservation, Pima County Procurement, Pima County Superintendent of Schools, Pima County Superior Court, Pima County Transportation.