Communities lining up to gain access at reasonable price
SUPERIOR – There was a time when Mila Lira wasn’t able to run her online business effectively out of this former mining town 60 miles east of Phoenix. Not on a dial-up connection.
“I use the Internet daily for e-mail and marketing,” Lira said.
Now Lira enjoys broadband Internet access as she provides virtual administrative help for offices around the country through Miracle Executive Services.
The relief came in the form of small white boxes with tiny antennas atop homes, the school, even a light pole at the baseball field.
Lira happily shows these to a visitor to illustrate what a wireless Internet network means to this community.
“Having high-speed in rural communities is like having a sewer system; it’s needed for a healthy community,” Lira said.
Since 2007, Superior residents have been able to pay $29.99 a month for unlimited high-speed Internet access through WI-VOD, a company that specializes in providing broadband in rural communities. There are about 100 customers in the community.
In theory, anyone in Arizona can have broadband Internet access, but in remote areas that often involves service via satellite and a monthly charge that’s more than people want to pay.
Officials say affordable broadband is essential for small communities to attract businesses and new residents and to provide current residents with online education, e-medicine and other benefits that come with high-speed Internet access.
“It is all about increasing the quality of life,” said DJ Harper, spokesman for the state’s Government Information Technology Agency.
He said broadband access has been slow in coming to rural communities because of the initial cost for providers.
“What’s expensive is getting the infrastructure from Phoenix or Tucson across Arizona’s rugged and expansive geography in order to get to these communities,” Harper said.
Superior got its broadband through a combination of grants from public and private groups totaling $340,000, according to Heather Murphy, a Pinal County spokeswoman. Of that, $270,000 came from USDA Rural Development, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Superior provided a $25,000 grant, and the business community provided $10,000 in matching funds.
Mayor Michael O. Hing said Superior has been able to use its new high-speed Internet to promote the community to tourists via a Web site. A rest area along U.S. 60 offers free wireless Internet. He said broadband has also helped attract new residents.
“We didn’t see the capabilities of Wi-Fi and what it could do,” Hing said. “It’s not just a toy; there are a lot of advantages to the system.”
WI-VOD has placed 13 access points around Superior, including one hanging off Town Hall.
Allan Meiusi, CEO and chief architect with WI-VOD, said it’s fundamentally important to get high-speed Internet into communities that lack it.
“By enhancing access to the Internet, rural communities can build an increasingly diverse economic foundation and, with it, higher-paying, service-oriented jobs that are not limited by geographic circumstance or characteristics,” Meiusi said in an e-mail interview.
Meiusi said WI-VOD hopes to extend service to other rural communities.
The company is working with the Pinal County towns of Hayden and Winkelman, for example.
Candi Nillies, support services coordinator for the Hayden Police Department, said the town hopes high-speed Internet will attract visitors who are unaware of the town’s beautiful landscapes and attractions such as river tubing.
“One thing we would be able to do with wireless is create a Web site,” she said.
Most important, she said, wireless Internet would allow police cars to carry mobile data terminals.
“We want to give them every piece of technology possible to ensure they go home to their families safe and sound after a shift,” Nillies said.
The Arizona Corporation Commission reviews requests from telephone companies that want to borrow money or issue bonds to provide broadband service in rural areas.
Giancarlo Estrada, a policy adviser to Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes, said getting broadband Internet into rural areas is important but difficult to achieve.
“You’re always trying to increase the outreach,” he said. “But it’s a continued challenge to finance because of the limited customer base.”
Superior is still working out the kinks in its broadband, including minor service interruptions, Hing said. But he expects to have more and more residents and businesses take advantage of the service in the coming months.
“We want to educate people on how this simple tool could improve and enhance the quality of life here in Superior,” Hing said.
On the Web
Town of Superior:
Arizona Government Information Technology Agency:
Some key facts about broadband Internet access:
• Definition: Allows users to access the Internet at significantly higher speeds than those available through dial-up access.
• Speed: Varies widely, ranging from as low as 200 kilobits per second to 6 megabits per second. Some recent offerings reach 100 Mbps.
• How It Works: Transmission is digital, meaning data come through as “bits.” Several high-speed transmission technologies can be used.
Source: Federal Communications Commission