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Tue, Sept. 21

Tusayan Council looks at fiber optic possibilities

One proposed project route for running fiber optic to the town of Tusayan by Commnet, could start in Williams and go north along the railroad tracks before heading east to the Crown Castle tower and into Tusayan and the Grand Canyon. Photo/courtesy of ATN, Commnet

One proposed project route for running fiber optic to the town of Tusayan by Commnet, could start in Williams and go north along the railroad tracks before heading east to the Crown Castle tower and into Tusayan and the Grand Canyon. Photo/courtesy of ATN, Commnet

TUSAYAN, Ariz. - Faster and better internet service for the town of Tusayan and the Grand Canyon has been a matter of discussion for years and while many options have been discussed some people believe fiber is the solution.

During the town of Tusayan's July 22 meeting, representatives from Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN) International, who invest, own and operate communications companies and renewable energy assets in the U.S. and internationally, including Commnet, which focuses on rural America, presented council members with an update of a feasibility study that was completed to bring fiber optic communications from Williams into the Tusayan area.

"The study is not complete yet but we think we are at a point in this development cycle that would warrant coming in and presenting where we stand today," said John Champagne, vice president of planning and development for ATN.

According to Champagne, ATN provides communication services to some of the most remote locations in the U.S., including state and national parks, lakes, ski areas, mines, remote towns and Native American reservations.

Commnet funded and contracted Team Fischel to provide a comprehensive feasibility study that took into account current services in the area provided by either phone or electric. The study also looked at feasibility of various options, the pros and cons of underground versus aerial fiber, existing pole structures (APS or telegraph) along the railroad tracks and the costs of various routes that could be used to bring fiber into the area. Additionally, the study looked at the most sound engineering design based on all available options and the effort and time it will take to complete the project.

"We went through a pretty comprehensive discussion with them and we think we have what we consider to be the best design option," Champagne said.

The proposed project route by ATN could use a high capacity option from Century Link to bring fiber from Williams, north along the railroad tracks and into Tusayan.

This route would require Forest Service approval for an easement across land southwest of Tusayan where the cable would run from the railroad tracks to a tower owned by Crown Castle.

"We feel pretty optimistic that if we used the town as a resource and applied to the Forest Service for a four foot allotment down the center line of an existing road, we would have a high probability of getting it approved," Champagne said.

A formal survey, which is a requirement to run the fiber optic underground from the railroad tracks to the tower, is currently being undertaken.

If the easement were approved, the fiber would continue from the tower into Tusayan and continue to the Grand Canyon before ending at Century Link Tower.

"This project is still in the planning phase and Tusayan has a lot of work ahead to come up with a plan to place the fiber in town and figure out the business terms," Champagne said in an email. "My company has spent a lot of time and money on this project but until we finalize a design we have not committed to move forward yet."

Before the feasibility study is completed, Commnet and the town need to discuss the type of design for the fiber, Tusayan's potential funding for the project, equity ownership (Tusayan could be an owner in a percentage of the network), Tusayan pricing structure for services and options for home and business internet services.

Champagne asked Tusayan Council members to consider the options presented in the study before the town decides to move forward with the project.

"The project is very complicated because it involves Forest Service, park service, Xanterra, the town, APS (Arizona Public Service) and Century Link," Champagne said.

Additionally, Champagne said Grand Canyon National Park needs to complete a feasibility study it is currently working on and said APS is also working on a feasibility study to make sure its poles can support the weight of the fiber optic cable. Xanterra will review the proposed project after these components are completed since the plan is focused on using a right of way owned by the railroad.

Tusayan Mayor John Rueter asked that 60 days be given to the town to assimilate necessary information for the town and Commnet to discuss before moving forward.

"I would like to see this town system go forward as quickly as possible because if and when we ever get a large fiber source, if we don't already have something constructed we're still stopped," Rueter said. "I really think it's good for the whole town and I really can't thank ATN enough that they keep coming back and talking with us."

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