Proposal funds rural high-speed internet with phone bill fee

Posted at 6:37 AM, Jan 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-15 08:37:36-05
Phone bills would go up slightly under an Arizona Corporation Commission member's proposal to help fund high-speed internet for rural schools and libraries in Arizona.
The commission approved a sample order that estimates the year-long increase at 15 cents per month, reported the Arizona Capitol Times.
State dollars would allow districts to apply for matching funds through a Federal Communications Commission program that supports construction for broadband infrastructure at schools and libraries.
Nonprofit EducationSuperHighway has been working with the state on the issue. The group said in a report that most of the state's schools without high-speed internet are rurally located.
Commissioner Andy Tobin said his proposal responds to Gov. Doug Ducey's Jan. 9 state of the state address, in which Ducey said rural schools should have access to high-speed internet.
"Every Arizona student must be afforded the same opportunity to learn, including those who live on tribal lands, in some inner city areas, or in the most remote reaches of the state," Tobin wrote in an announcement of his proposal.
The program would get an initial boost of about $8 million from the Arizona Universal Service Fund, currently supported by a 1-cent fee.
EducationSuperHighway predicts broadband expansion would require the state to contribute $8 million to $13 million.
Tobin said federal matching dollars could exceed $80 million.
Ducey's proposed state budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year recommends the state spend $5 million to expand broadband access for rural school districts and charter schools.
With federal funding, the move would "substantially enhance broadband access at little to no cost to the school," according to Ducey's budget proposal released Friday.
Commissioners will talk with stakeholders Jan. 30 and could vote in February.
Bills may reflect the increase in March.