Just about two years ago, Flagstaff was plunged into a world without the internet.
For about half a day, life was totally different. ATMs didn’t work. Research at Northern Arizona University was put on hold. Work operations that relied on internet access stopped cold and credit card transactions couldn’t be processed (at least not through credit card terminals; we imagine people found old imprint sliders or wrote down information to input once they got back online.)
The incident highlighted for many how much broadband is now embedded in almost every aspect of our lives: doing work, emailing, grocery shopping, getting gas, homework and home entertainment. Quick check: How much cash do you have on you right now? Or are you like many of us with few green bills but plenty of plastic in your wallet – plastic that is mostly worthless if there’s no internet access?
When the vandals cut through that bundle of fiber optic cables two years ago, we were also reminded of the importance of backup infrastructure – a dual, secondary fiber system – to provide redundancy and prevent incidents like this in the future.
Because so much of the internet is not regulated by the feds or states, there’s no legal requirement for backup systems; it’s up to the individual providers. And given that it’s expensive, providers often don’t opt for redundancies unless it’s financially worthwhile. The result? Big cities tend to have back up systems in place; small cities and rural areas do not.
On the bright side, we are heartened to see that Congressman Tom O’Halleran was one of the sponsors of the New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017, a bill to invest in broadband internet infrastructure across the country.
The bill, currently in several committees for review, would establish a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives to coordinate and centralize all federal rural broadband programs; authorize $20 billion for new broadband infrastructure; authorize new programs to support tribal communities in broadband development; and provide land management agencies with agreements and fee retention authority for telecommunications rights-of-way to leverage public lands for broadband deployment.
Broadband is no longer just a helpful tool; it’s become a necessity for the ongoing economic vitality of our region. As such, we are glad to see these efforts to make it more accessible and reliable.