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Grants Aimed at Broadband Internet for Rural Arizona

Almost 1 million Arizonans lack access to high-speed internet service, but state officials hope a grant program will help close that digital divide. (Funtap/Adobe Stock)
Almost 1 million Arizonans lack access to high-speed internet service, but state officials hope a grant program will help close that digital divide. (Funtap/Adobe Stock)

February 7, 2020

MOHAVE VALLEY, Ariz. - Most people don't think twice about logging onto the internet to take an online class or watch a movie - but for almost a million Arizonans, that's a near impossibility.

For rural areas or poor neighborhoods, affordable broadband internet service often is unavailable. The State of Arizona is looking to close that "digital divide", by issuing $10 million in grants to small towns and rural regions to provide high-speed connections.

Dave Lock, director of the Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association says one way to expand broadband in these areas is through electric co-ops.

"Back in the day when dial-up started, people thought it was a luxury," says Lock. "But now it's just having access, or the ability to access all that's available, is almost becoming more of a necessity than a luxury."

Rural Broadband Development Grants were awarded in six regions of the state. The grants will also fund broadband conduit cables along interstate highways in north, central and southern Arizona.

Tyler Carlson is CEO of the Mohave Electric Co-op, a grant recipient serving about 35,000 customers in Bullhead City, Fort Mohave and Mohave Valley. He says power co-ops are a good choice because they already have infrastructure connections to most households.

"Co-ops are getting involved from the standpoint of ensuring that they're on a level playing field with metropolitan areas,"says Carlson. "Because if the rural areas don't have access, [the] possibility of them being able to compete or expand or even keep young people in the area, it's really not there."

While the grants won't cover all the capital costs of delivering broadband services, Carlson says they're a good start. He says not having broadband access often makes people feel like second-class citizens.

"They get their news through the internet and they get their entertainment by way of Netflix,"says Carlson. "They're involved in all kinds of social media. But all of that really requires more bandwidth and more speed, and it just doesn't exist in the rural areas."

In addition to the Arizona grant program, the Federal Communication Commission plans to allocate more than $20 billion to broadband providers serving rural and tribal areas nationwide.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ