The communities of Sonoita, Elgin and Patagonia are slated to receive improved internet service as a result of a settlement reached between the AZ Attorney General’s office and Lumen Technologies, formerly known as Century Link. 

This settlement stems from a lawsuit brought against Century Link by the AG’s office, contending that the company had engaged in “deceptive and unfair advertising and billing practices,” according to AZ Central. The settlement, announced last March, required Lumen to invest “$2 million in improvements to fiber-optic infrastructure in areas that the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) determines are in need. These improvements will help provide internet services to underserved consumers in Arizona.” 

In a letter dated Nov. 17, the AGO and Lumen agreed to “upgrading the network from Sierra Vista to Patagonia and Elgin to support Optical Wave Services which will greatly increase speeds.” The letter from the AGO’s office states that customers benefitting from this would include schools, Border Patrol … approximately 112 small businesses and will impact “approximately 15,000 consumers” (a perplexing number, as the population of eastern Santa Cruz County is less than 1,816, according to 2018 U.S. Census figures.) The cost estimate of the project has been redacted on the public document. 

The Attorney General’s office had not notified the Santa Cruz County officials of this settlement, according to District 3 Supervisor Bruce Bracker. He is pleased with the announcement from the AGO about the settlement with Century Link to provide better service for the residents of Eastern Santa Cruz County.

“I’m happy that someone held Century Link accountable,” he said.

Coincidentally, the County has been dealing with its own problems with Century Link, due to Century Link having stopped work on a project designed to bring high speed, affordable internet to schools in the eastern part of the county

The County and the School Superintendent’s Office have been working with the FCC to implement the E-Rate program across SCC.

“E-Rate provides discounts for telecommunications, internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries,” according to the E-Rate website. Several area schools and libraries are already connected to the internet through this program, which is designed to serve rural and underserved communities.

E-Rate funding helps to pay for the construction cost to get the cable to schools and helps to pay monthly charges. The amount of funding each school receives is dependent on the number of students eligible for the free and reduced lunch rate, according to Chris Young, Chief Deputy at the School Superintendent’s Office. For example, if 80% of the students are getting free or reduced lunches, the school receives a discount of 80% both for the construction costs and the monthly payments.

Fiber-optic cables have been run to the Elgin and Patagonia Schools, according to Bracker, but have not been connected yet.

“The last school to get fiber in front of it was Elgin,” he said. “Fiber-optic cable is in place, but the last hundred yards have not been laid and the connections not made.”

The county signed a contract in May 2018 with Century Link to lay the cable and ultimately to provide broadband service to the schools, but Century Link has stopped work on the project. The SCC School Superintendent’s office has engaged an outside attorney to try to resolve this problem. 

Bracker stressed the importance of high-speed internet for Santa Cruz County, for the schools, for residents and for businesses.

“Internet now is what electricity used to be,” he said. “This is akin to the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. There’s a huge divide between urban and rural. We need to level the playing field. You have to have it and it’s a huge component of economic development.”