$17.5M Broadband Network On Horizon For Rural, Remote, and Tribal Areas

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Three rural, Utah communities are poised to receive a fiber optic-based broadband network next year, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. The multiagency project has a price tag of $17.5 million and will help to upgrade rural and remote areas that currently have lower bandwidth connections. 

The first phase of the project, which will cost $5 million, will bring the fiber connection from Blanding, where it was installed in 2015, to Bluff and Montezuma Creek elementary schools. 

Emery Telcom, a nonprofit, community-owned utilities cooperative, will roll out phase one.

The second phase, which is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2021, will cost $10 million. This portion of the project will extend the network to remote parts of the county, including the Navajo Nation towns of Oljato-Monument Valley and Navajo Mountain. 

“It could be a game-changer for our southern part of the county,” said San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams. “Without connectivity, you’re behind the line as far as opportunities in this world, and certainly, we want the Navajo people to have the same connectivity opportunities as the rest of the world.”

According to Jeff Egly, associate director for the Utah Education and Telehealth Network (UETN), his organization was able to provide funding that allowed the project to tap into the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program. Also, Emery Telcom assisted with a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will fund $2.5 million to extend fiber lines from Bluff to Mexican Hat and Halchita.  

Adams learned the final piece of the project was eligible for a 9-to-1 funding match from the FCC and helped persuade the state Legislature to appropriate $1 million to UETN so the project would qualify for the other $9 million, per the Tribune. “If we get the [high-speed] internet to the schools, it wouldn’t be long until it would be available to the chapters and other places on the reservation,” Adams said.

 Brock Johansen, Emery Telcom’s CEO, noted that the fiber network would “open the market to numerous providers.” He added that new cell towers could tap into the lines to provide high-speed data service.  

As a next step, the project must secure the necessary permitting, including right-of-way agreements for construction on tribal lands. The numerous grants involved each has an expiration date, which puts pressure on advancing the project.

November 19, 2019

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