The State of Arizona is working to develop a strategic plan for statewide broadband deployment that meets the needs of all stakeholders. This work is spearheaded by the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA). Arizona created a statewide broadband strategic plan back in 2012 as part of NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative, but the data generated is now out of date. The goals for the 2017 project are to update and restructure the strategic plan to serve as a guide to operational, technical, resource, funding, and legislative decisions.

As a means of gathering community input from diverse stakeholders in rural Arizona, the project team conducted a series of four focus group sessions throughout the state. The State Library was able to have a presence at each of the four sessions. I attended the session in Parker, Arizona, on October 17, 2017, with a colleague from the Library Development department and was joined by representatives of the commerce authority, regional hospital, public library, tribal library, and the economic development corporation.

Because of my involvement in NDIA’s corps project, I came to the meeting already thinking about the “three-legged stool” of digital inclusion as well as Dr. Colin Rhinesmith’s research on meaningful broadband adoption initiatives. While my objective was to actively and compassionately listen to the participants at the focus group sessions, I couldn’t help piping up about the importance of all aspects of digital inclusion–beyond affordable and robust broadband–during the discussion. I am certainly glad to talk about digital inclusion at professional conferences and among my colleagues, but we must continue engaging local stakeholders to broaden the scope of broadband planning.

Some comments from the participants/observations from the session:

  • There is a need for clarity and transparency in the planning process.
  • Broadband is a utility, not a luxury item
  • We need designated leadership and a local champion to coordinate activities and make sure all partners are on track. There is a State Broadband Office of Arizona proposed for FY19.
  • Coverage maps of rural areas are misleading. Service will be listed as available, but in reality it doesn’t pass the “drive test” (calls made during a car trip in rural areas are dropped). One attendee estimated that up to ⅓ of the county is without cell reception.
  • The branch locations of the regional hospital do not have sufficient broadband to support health outreach and services
  • La Paz County has the second oldest median age in the country, and is also among the poorest. Some attendees have the perception that the elderly don’t think that technology is relevant.
  • GovNet infrastructure is the solution used by some business and agencies in the region to gain access, but many do not take advantage of this network
  • Outreach and partnership with tribal nations seems to be happening mostly in relation to Arizona FirstNet, a public safety broadband network.
  • Attendees were mostly unaware of E-rate
  • Attendees identified the need for broadband infrastructure to support a “solo workforce” or remote workforce, which could support economic development in the region
  • There needs to be an information clearinghouse about the funding/reimbursement models of telecommunications companies, ISPs, and CAIs regarding infrastructure deployment