Pima County is expanding access to high speed internet with a 134 mile open access fiber ring in an effort to fill the technology divide and provide internet access to rural communities. The U.S. Commerce Department announced Friday that the county will receive $30.3 million dollars in grant money from the National Telecommunications Information Administration, in addition to about $12.5 million in local funds. Pima County was awarded this money as a part of a $930 million dollar federal grant aimed at expanding high speed internet.

“Broadband is critical to everything that we do,” Jan Lesher, the county administrator said.

The fiber ring will make it less expensive for internet companies to connect rural and historically underserved communities. Nearly 18% of communities in Pima County don’t have access to high speed internet, Lesher said. So over the next five years, the county will work to place the fiber ring into the ground that encircles as far as Oro Valley and Sahuarita.

“It doesn’t require them to front load the cost of getting access out to those remote areas,” Javier Baca, the county’s director of information technology, said.

He said it’s a problem that came to the forefront during the pandemic, especially when many students didn’t have internet to complete their classes.

“There are areas with large populations of students who didn’t have the infrastructure to have connectivity,” Baca said.

This is a five year project that will begin after July 1st. It’s a part of the Connect Pima effort, which aims to ensure access to the internet, digital literacy and increased access to connectivity throughout Pima County.