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Broadband project is on the fast track

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Photo submitted A TCS Construction crew bores beneath the roadway in a photo taken last fall.

The effort to bring high speed broadband to Delta County is moving much faster than anyone anticipated. Working with Region 10 and contractor TCS Communications, the City of Delta has seen installation of fiber optic cables throughout the city. Multiple work crews were on the ground this fall working on both aerial and underground construction.

With construction complete, Michelle Haynes, executive director of Region 10 League for Economic Assistance and Planning, and project director Chris Kennedy talked about what's next at a recent city council work session.

Their presentation included a map illustrating how the system ties into the "broadband highway" via partnerships with DMEA, Tri-State and other entities which already had infrastructure in place. Kennedy explained the system has been designed to deliver redundancy and diversity, to deliver traffic in multiple ways to multiple users.

Region 10 is not a retail provider of internet services, Haynes and Kennedy emphasized, but will deliver services to government and nonprofit entities within the community. For the city, it will be possible to connect with other communities and possibly share services. "Hopefully in the long run the city will save money operationally," Kennedy said.

Within the city, there are numerous points where private providers can access one gigabit or 10 gigabit service to build last mile service at much more affordable rates than otherwise would have been possible.

The next step, Kennedy said, is a series of requests for bids for equipment related to transport, while Region 10 develops service agreements with potential "last mile" service providers.

"We're starting to see private enterprise interest in the project because they know they can reduce some of their network costs," Kennedy said.

"I am optimistic that at the end of the day we're going to be encouraged about the level of competition we're going to be able to bring into the city," Haynes said. Competition will keep service at a high level and pricing levels low. We've already seen a lot of progress with DMEA being able to leverage this partnership into last-mile project. Other providers will be doing the same in the City of Delta. Obviously we can't talk a lot about that until we have agreements in place, but I think you will all be pleased."

Once the equipment is ordered, tuned up and tested, Region 10 will seek bids for operation and maintenance of the infrastructure. Haynes and Kennedy said Region 10 will outsource that function to an enterprise that provides that service for many areas.

With network construction in the cities of Delta and Montrose well under way -- and about 50 percent of the population in Region 10 prepared to be served in the first year -- Phase Two can begin. During 2017, construction will continue throughout the Region 10 member counties of Delta, Montrose, Ouray, San Miguel, Gunnison and Hinsdale. "Our plan is to have the entire construction process done next year," Kennedy said.

"Region 10 will have a world class network when it's all said and done," he added. "We hope this will become a model that can be replicated."

"It's really overwhelming to me when I think about how much we have accomplished in the last few months," Haynes said. "A lot of it speaks to that early planning we'd been doing all along."

She spoke of an aggressive timeline that began with a planning grant, then memorandums of understanding among the participating entities, including the City of Delta and Delta County.

"We've been hearing about this project for two to three years now, but we actually received our first DOLA contract in February and that's when we were able to begin work on this project," Haynes said. She expects the entire network to be complete within two years of the first grant award.

The project has received DOLA funds of $8.3 million, Economic Development Administration funds of $1.2 million, contributions from local governmental entities totaling $3.5 million, and an El Pomar Foundation grant of $150,000. Delta-Montrose Electric Association has been a "strong partner," contributing an estimated $2.2 million.

"Without these resources and these partnerships this project would never have got off the ground," Kennedy said.

Local contributions of $3.5 million have been leveraged into a $15 million project, he added. "I don't know you could be better stewards of your taxpayer money."

At the same time, the cost of wholesale broadband has been dropping, another benefit for the end user, and Delta-Montrose Electric Association has developed Elevate Fiber, a wholly-owned, for-profit subsidiary that offers internet service to DMEA customers in Delta and Montrose counties.

"We feel that even without lighting the service we've made a lot of progress ... but not nearly what we're going to once we get this service," Haynes said.

Kennedy, a member of the Grand Junction City Council, said that city is feeling pressured to deliver broadband services at the same level as Delta and Montrose.

"This is a real game-changer for the community, in terms of improved internet services and true high-speed broadband," Kennedy said.

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