Jun 28 2019

Arizona School Districts Partner to Build Fiber Networks

County consortiums work together on cost-effective ways to bring high-speed internet to remote areas.

In Arizona, rural districts are pooling resources and collaborating on countywide E-rate applications, and the result has been a huge success. Schools in remote areas in seven counties are now getting high-speed internet connections.

No service provider wants to build a fiber network to one small school in the middle of nowhere. But if districts in a county create a consortium and go in on an E-rate application together, the project is worth it to service providers because they have multiple customers, says Milan Eaton, Arizona’s state E-rate controller, who helped the counties create the consortia.

“By having multiple customers, service providers can justify the cost of maintaining the network,” he explains.

Arizona is taking advantage of E-rate’s Category 1 funds, which pay for special construction charges to build lit, dark and self-provisioned networks. If state governments pay 10 percent of construction costs, E-rate pays an additional 10 percent.

In Cochise County, it will cost $30 million to build fiber networks to each of its 22 districts. E-rate is paying 80 percent, and with the state paying 10 percent, E-rate will match it and pay the rest. Each district gets a fiber network without paying a dime, Eaton says. 

“Now fiber is being built in places in Cochise County that otherwise would never, in the next two generations, be able to get high-speed internet,” he says.

The state provided Eaton with $11 million to help build the networks, including $8 million from a temporary 8-cent tax.

Competitive bids from service providers have helped to further reduce broadband costs. Yavapai County, for example, used to pay $48 per 1 megabit per second. Now with the new fiber network, the county pays only $3.50 per 1Mbps.

“The return on investment is amazing,” Eaton says.

For more on how E-rate can help with K–12 school network initiatives, check out "E-Rate Improvements Support Easier and Faster IT Upgrades." 

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