At a time when staying connected and in touch is of paramount value to all Patagonians, it’s disappointing that none of our public services is providing that connectivity.

The FCC ruled two weeks ago that public schools and libraries may use their own broadband connections as WiFi “hot spots” accessible to locals without their own broadband facilities without risking “eRate” funding. Across the nation and in our own region, schools and libraries are doing just that.

Regrettably, neither Patagonia High School nor the Patagonia Library are able to act as local “hot spots,” although either one offering such a service would reach 95% of all Patagonians within town limits. The High School can’t do so (even if it wished to and knew how to) because its own internet service, supported by County Schools fiber from Nogales, has been the subject of a contract dispute between the County and CenturyLink for at least a year, maybe more.

Denying essential services to the Town’s residents over a contract dispute? Both parties need to do some serious rechecking of their values, regarding what’s important these days and consider the consequences of their shared lockjaw if a lot of us remain in the dark during a raging pandemic.

The Library, commendable as it is, cannot serve as a hot spot because it is not equipped to do so, not being a part of the County library system. (All County libraries are networked and thus capable.) Perhaps some modifications to its equipment are necessary and should be undertaken immediately, if necessary with a grant from the Town, a collection taken among the citizens, or a gift from one of the public or private philanthropies that serve our community in other ways, at the moment considerably less consequential.

So far, we’ve been lucky to escape scourge generally. Informed citizens can do a lot to prevent COVID’s appearance here. And also remain calm. It’s time to bite the bullet and get the parties responsible and able to turn on the facilities we all can use to stay connected.

Some may recall Patagonia’s effort last year, led by Town Manager Ron Robinson and me, to win a broadband-communications planning grant. We didn’t win a grant because the sponsor of the grant competition, the Arizona Commerce Authority, simply ran out of money. The Legislature allocated a paltry $3 million to award to almost 25 towns, cities, and reservations, a drop in the bucket. This year, the bucket is half-full at $10 million, so maybe we’ll reapply when the new competition begins.

Also, the new ACA VP for Telecommunications, Jeff Subotka, who helped us compete last year and who’s proving to be an exceptional public advocate generally, recently nominated Patagonia as a testbed for private solutions that might bring quality communications to Patagonia. And local private interests are talking about helping out, also. 

If one or more of these efforts proves successful, both the High School and Library will be beneficiaries, as will the rest of us. No Patagonian should ever again be unwillingly disconnected from the rest of us. That’s the meaning of community.