Expanding broadband internet access for Arizona’s underserved rural residents is the goal of a new state plan to build fiber-optic backbones along major interstates and highways.

The Arizona Commerce Authority, in partnership with the state Department of Transportation, last week unveiled the Arizona Statewide Broadband Middle-Mile Strategic Plan, with the creation of the Statewide Middle-Mile Network, which supports current broadband expansion efforts on Interstate 17 and Interstate 19 and future expansion on those and other interstate and state highways.

The Commerce Authority and its new state Broadband Office say Arizona’s rural and tribal communities now lack accessibility to fast, affordable, and reliable broadband service.

The Commerce Authority cited data showing that most U.S. Census blocks in Arizona have a single service provider, and about 2.1 million out of 2.6 million Arizona households are connected to some form of internet.

But that leaves about 400,000 households with no internet access and an equal number with substandard service like dial-up, and internet speeds in non-metropolitan areas fall short of the state’s goal for download speeds of 100 megabits per second and uploads of 20 Mbps, the state agency said.

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