/ Modified jun 21, 2023 7:59 p.m.

Cochise Supervisors look at broadband internet coverage

The majority of the county's rural areas are under-served or unserved.

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The Cochise County Board of Supervisors discussed areas in the county that are underserved or have no broadband service in a work session Tuesday.

Currently, there are 10,950 residents in Cochise County who are under-served or unserved by broadband internet access, according to a presentation by Cochise County Chief Information Officer Joe Casey.

Underserved is described as those who have 100 megabits per second download speed and only 20 megabits per second upload speed. Those defined as unserved have 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed.

“Download is when you’re trying to go get information from the internet, and you’re bringing it down to your computer,” Casey said during the June 8 work session. “If you’re taking information from your computer and put it up on the internet, that’s upload speeds.”

The majority of users who are under-served or unserved are in rural and census-denoted areas in the county like Pomerene, Whetstone, Hereford, and Palominas.

The area with the largest population of under-served, or unserved residents for broadband internet coverage is Hereford, a census-denoted area, that has 2,752 residents who fall into those categories for coverage. This is followed by Whetstone, which has 2,550 residents who are under-served or unserved. The city of Tombstone has the third highest population of under-served or unserved residents for internet coverage at a total of 1,439.

Casey said that at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2023, the county plans to send a Request for Information or RFI to find broadband internet providers to fill in the gaps in internet coverage across the county.

“The plan is to move forward with a public-private partnership, and essentially what we mean is that the ISP or the Internet Service Provider, they’re still going to be the ones that own the network,” said Casey. “The county is not trying to get into the ISP game and own these networks.”

Casey said the county plans to seek grant funding from the federal government including from the $42.45 billion Broadband, Equity, Access & Deployment Program (BEAD). Money from that fund is expected to be released to counties in 2024. The funding from that program will not go directly to counties but to the states which then distribute it.

"So, that money is going to be going down to the states and administered from the state level down to county, cities, so on and so forth," said Casey.

He noted that his department will also ask to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to provide a funding match for the grants if needed. Currently, he said the county has roughly $2 million dollars set aside for that.

Cox Communications received $8.2 million from the Arizona Commerce Authority’s Arizona Broadband Development Grant to bring broadband internet services to the Douglas and Cochise College’s Douglas campus.

The company also invested several million into bringing broadband internet to Huachuca City. That project aims to install about 15 and a half miles of fiber optic cable and as a result bring 1 gig upload and download speeds for residents. It was fully funded by Cox.

Cochise County District 1 Supervisor Tom Crosby asked if the under-served and unserved areas for broadband internet coverage in the county have anything to do with cell phone coverage. Casey said that these broadband internet service gaps do not impact cell service coverage.

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