Coconino County, town of Tusayan continue work to bring internet to residents
TUSAYAN, Ariz. — Now, more than ever, the internet is an essential part of daily life. Under shelter in place orders, work, school and communications have largely taken place online.
In rural areas, such as Grand Canyon Village, Valle and Tusayan internet access can be hard to come by. According to a survey conducted by the South Rim Chamber of Commerce, about 44.5 percent of respondents in the area had some kind of difficulty accessing the internet during the shutdown. More than 20 percent reported using their phone as a mobile hotspot.
Over the past few years, however, the town of Tusayan has been working to change that and have been increasing efforts in response to the current crisis.
“The town went to great lengths to make sure people living (in Tusayan) have basic level broadband access, because we think it's really important,” said Town Manager Cynthia Seelhammer.
The initiative started approximately two years ago, when the town realized that providing broadband to its residents could be beneficial. After making a plan and reviewing several proposals, a three year contract was set up with AccessParks.
AccessParks, a contracting company based in San Diego, California, is known for providing internet access to hard-to-reach places. The company has worked with military bases as well as several national parks to provide better access.
According to Seelhammer, close to 600 residents have broadband so far. The company has even added an extra technician to try and speed up installations during the coronavirus pandemic.
During the pandemic, the scope of this outreach has changed.
Internet accessibility in Valle
Grand Canyon Unified School District, like all Arizona schools, is closed for the remainder of the year and students are relying on online educational options. This includes some students in Valle.
The town of Tusayan, realizing students in Valle might also have trouble accessing the internet, were trying, alongside Valle residents, to find a way to improve access there as well.
Valle is an unincorporated area and falls under the jurisdiction of Coconino County.
Recently, the county partnered with Northern Arizona University (NAU) to install hotspots throughout the county to improve accessibility. Nearby reservations are also part of the program.
On May 5, NAU installed a wireless access point in Valle, providing free access to internet in the town. While there isn't much time left in the current school year, the hope is that this foundation will be important to have in place should a resurgence require additional restrictions in the future.
These programs are part of a larger push for internet access in rural areas, at both state and national levels. Legislation is largely on pause currently to focus on more pressing issues, but rural internet has been a going concern, and installations are on-going, according to Coconino County.
Rural internet access was mentioned as a priority in Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's 2020 State of the State and in early April, the governor announced a Mobile Hotspot Donation Drive to help students statewide have internet access during school closures. There is also a program to establish WiFi access in public libraries throughout the state.
Currently, the town of Tusayan pays per month per service for all of residents to receive basic broadband service. Town residents can sign up at https://booking.appointy.com/en-US/accessparks/bookings/calendar and an AccessParks contractor will make the installation.
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