Prescott Valley looks to lead in connectivity

PRESCOTT VALLEY – A group of tri-city residents has been studying ways to beef up the region's telecommunications.

Last year, the volunteer-driven Telecom Task Force began brainstorming on the topic of bringing broadband, high-speed Internet capabilities into the area – a plan they hope will better serve the needs of residents and businesses in the tri-city area.

The group's first order of business this summer was a customer survey, explained Gary Marks, director of the Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation.

Marks said 478 Prescott Valley residents completed the survey.

Based on the town-wide survey, Marks said, most Internet users indicated that they would use an upgraded telecommunications system.

"We had a number of service providers that gave their presentations of their technology (services)," Marks said.

Fewer than 25 percent of the poll participants strongly agree that their Internet service is reliable.

Almost half of those polled strongly support the idea that telecommunications technology is critical to future growth in rural America.

The task force sent in an application for a community technical assistance grant from the Arizona Department of Commerce, Marks said.

The results of that grant are still pending.

If the grant goes through, the state will pay for a telecommunications consulting expert who will work within the tri-city region, including areas along the Highway 69 Corridor, and present the findings from a cost-and-gap-analysis study, Marks said.

This study could cost around $50,000, but that figure depends on the size of the region, he said.

The final study results would determine where Prescott Valley stands now and in the future as far as entering into a more modern economy.

For example, Marks explained, the communications "ring" around our region now contains a 12- to 14-mile gap "that would need to be closed. If you are dealing with service (or) telecommunication centers and businesses highly dependent on their connectivity … the loss of that service for any time can be extremely expensive."

Therefore, the region must close that gap to provide a reliable service connection.

The bottom line is that most businesses will feel comfortable moving into the tri-city area knowing that no such communication gap exists, he said.

The Prescott Valley Town Council placed an item on its agenda in May that called for "a more comprehensive, connective community," Marks said.

That item was part of the council's annual management-and-goals action plan.

Bringing broadband, high-speed Internet access to the region could improve fiber optic (cable) and cellular (wireless, satellite) communications as well, Marks said.

The addition of improved technology into Prescott Valley would expand the competitive market for these types of services, he said.

Another area of concern, Marks said, is the reliability of cellular communication because the local terrain often makes wireless phones difficult to rely on at times.

Eventually, the task force will mail pamphlets to the public so people "can be more aware … of what this broadband, what this high-speed means," he said.

But how does high-tech service affect the average person with Internet access?

A higher level of telecommunications could potentially save a life, Marks said.

For example, if a homebound patient needs medical attention, he could reach a hospital or physician in mere seconds.

Also, physicians and hospitals could link with other medical centers, even in another county or state, to help in performing surgery, he said.

The technology has other applications as well. Marks cited education as one example.

"You could be at home in the evening after your family has gone to bed and you can be online continuing your education for an hour or two," he said.

Contact Briana Lonas at blonas@prescottaz.com.