Arizona Is Expanding Broadband in Rural Arizona Thanks to State and Federal Funds

Aerial view showing Gladden Farms subdivision in the Sonoran Desert, Marana, Pima County, Arizona. Aerial support by LightHawk. (Photo by: Wild Horizon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

By Camaron Stevenson

June 21, 2023

“Access to Internet is no longer a luxury.”

While it may feel as integral to daily life as running water or air conditioning for most Arizonans, access to high-speed internet is an out-of-reach utility for nearly one-third of the state’s residents.

But that could soon change, thanks to recent state and federal investments in broadband access in rural Arizona. Funding totaling roughly $58 million has been committed since May to expanding broadband access to the state’s 22 recognized federal tribes. The money will also go towards the construction of a 134-mile fiber network in Pima County.

Investments From State Budget, Federal Grants

In the state budget for 2024, Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs included $28 million to bring broadband to libraries, schools, and universities that previously didn’t have access—known as the E-Rate program—and a matching program to help municipalities cover the cost of expansion called the Rural Broadband Accelerated Match Fund. 

In addition to investments secured in the budget, Hobbs has also advocated successfully for federal funding to provide internet access to Arizona’s Tribal communities. She met with Tribal leaders in May to discuss millions in federal grants awarded to Arizona to bring broadband access to Arizona Tribes through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program and the Digital Equity Act.

“With the collaboration and input from tribal leaders who represent all 22 federally recognized tribes in Arizona, we expect to curate a comprehensive plan that addresses the disparate needs of tribal communities when it comes to broadband,” Hobbs said. “I am committed to using this funding, as well as the additional state funding provided by this year’s budget, to connect Arizona’s diverse communities and build an Arizona for everyone.”

Federal Grants for Fiber Network

In addition to state funding, federal investments have also been promised to expand internet access throughout Arizona. The state is set to receive over $30 million to spread high-speed internet infrastructure to Tucson and all of Pima County. Money for the project comes through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, an initiative of the Biden Administration to bolster and revitalize vital infrastructure across the country.

“Adequate access to broadband is not only essential for strong economic development, but for ensuring all communities in Arizona have access to the same opportunities in the digital age,” said US Rep. Ruben Gallego. “I am incredibly proud to see the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law once again at work for our state, and I will keep working to get Arizona the resources it needs to thrive.”

While a timeline has not been announced, Pima County residents should soon see construction of a 134-mile, open-access internet network built around the greater Tucson area and out to the county’s rural communities. Once completed, internet providers will be able to utilize the newly-built infrastructure to provide affordable internet access to low-income and underserved communities. According to a report from KVOA, approximately 105,000 Pima County residents currently lack broadband or internet access.

“Access to Internet is no longer a luxury and thanks to President Biden’s leadership, we are taking action to close the digital divide for everyone in America,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “Much like how the interstate highway system connected every community in America to regional and national systems of highways, this program will help us connect communities across the country to regional and national networks that provide quality, affordable high-speed Internet access.”

Improvements to the state’s internet infrastructure will also allow for more providers to reach a wider range of consumers. Currently, only 55% of Arizonans have access to more than one internet provider, and nearly one-third of people in the state lack access to either broadband or any type of internet service.

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Author

  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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