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Final Mile Project Looking To Bring Reliable Internet Access To Rural Arizona Students

Access to high-speed internet has long been limited for students in rural Arizona, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue to the forefront and increased the urgency to address this. A group of education leaders have partnered together to do just that.

The effort titled the Final Mile Projectwould bring reliable, high-speed internet access to rural Arizona students by extending existing broadband capacity at schools and libraries to students’ homes. 

“Our No. 1 guiding principle on this is to provide internet equity for rural students and we all know, everybody in education knows that inequities that occur early in a student’s life tend to follow that kid throughout his or her life," said Wes Brownfield with the Arizona Rural Schools Association, one of groups behind the project along with the Arizona Business and Education Coalition and the Arizona Association of County School Superintendents. 

The project was recently awarded $1.5 million from the Arizona Department of Education to get it off the ground. 

The project is starting its work with 200 families from six rural school districts: Beaver Creek School District in Yavapai County, Hackberry School District in Mohave County, Paloma Elementary School District in Maricopa County, Holbrook Unified School District in Navajo County, Pomorene School District in Cochise County and Chevelon Butte in Coconino County. 

Paloma Superintendent and Rural Schools Association President Kristin Turner is looking forward to the possibilities that this project will unlock for her district's community. 

“We have a lot of families who have gone without access to resources that could improve their lives just because of the lack of connectivity, so I am hoping it won’t just benefit, but also benefit everyone in their home," she said. 

Brownfield estimates that the families that the project is starting with will have dependable internet service by the beginning of next school year, and he's hoping the project's work won't end there. 

Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.