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Graham County Manager Dustin Welker 

On Monday the Graham County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay a company to develop and prepare a grant that could fund the expansion of fiber optic, broadband internet access to Eden, Bryce and Fort Thomas.

Using funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Arizona Commerce Authority is doling out $100 million for cities and counties to expand broadband internet access out to areas that aren’t already connected, especially rural areas, explained Dustin Welker, Graham County manager.

If Graham County can get the grant, the county will receive $4 million-$5 million to fund the expansion project.

The agreement approved by the county gives “up to” $50,000 to Community Broadband Associates to prepare the grant for the county, Welker said.

The company will have until December 10 to both study internet connectivity issues in Eden, Bryce and Fort Thomas and complete the grant application process.

Welker referred to the agreement with the company as a year-long “open agreement” where the county can request the company to prepare and apply for similar grants to expand internet access in the county as well.

“We’ll keep going after it till it’s out,” Welker said. “Because we’re all about servicing the community...There’s no benefit to us, we’ll have no taxes come off it. It’s just us leveraging these ARPA funds to increase the quality of life.”

“The possibilities are endless,” said Supervisor John Howard during the meeting on Monday.

Shane Hawkins, the superintendent of Fort Thomas Unified School District, said that although a majority of his 600 students live in and around Bylas on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation and only about 8% of students in his district live in Fort Thomas, he’s still very supportive of the county going after this grant.

“Everyone’s on wireless (internet), or satellite (internet), or not at all,” Hawkins said, about internet access in Fort Thomas.

Hawkins said he’s hopeful and excited more students in the district might be able to get reliable internet access. Some families don’t have any kind of internet access and some often have unreliable satellite internet connections.

“Being out here, we think we don’t have great internet service now,” said Cathie Hawkins, one of the owners of Meg’s Place in Fort Thomas.

The restaurant’s registers are connected through the internet via a satellite connection that often slows down to a crawl, slowing the restaurant’s staff down, Hawkins said.

“We’re just excited to have something more reliable,” Hawkins said.

Once Community Broadband Associates turns in the completed grant application, there’s no set deadline for the county to hear back if they’ve received the grant. If the county does not get the grant, the county would continue “chasing” and applying for other grants to expand internet access in the county, Welker said.

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