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DMEA moves forward with broadband

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DMEA, one of the two major players on the broadband field, provided an update to the Board of County Commissioners on Monday.

DMEA SmartGrid coordinator Mark Kurtz and chief operations manager Steve Metheney reported on DMEA's progress building its own consumer broadband Internet service provider (ISP) network and business plan.

Metheney said DMEA "has been in discussions with Region 10," which is also in the process of building its own "middle mile" broadband backbone network.

The Region 10 middle mile plan aims to make low-cost Internet service available to private Internet service providers (ISPs), and also to anchor institutions such as government and health care facilities.

Metheney told the BoCC that DMEA also plans to offer "last mile" broadband Internet service independently to the anchor institutions Region 10 has identified. (Region 10 officials have also said they would allow private ISPs a chance to access Internet signal through the Region 10 middle mile.)

Metheney noted that DMEA would want the revenue from anchor institutions to solidify its broadband business plan for the financial benefit of its members. DMEA officials point out they are entering the ISP business to satisfy member demand.

DMEA's broadband Internet project presumably is member-funded. The co-op has been tight-lipped about details of the project citing "a competitive business atmosphere."

The Region 10 plan has been promised public funding from a $5.2 million Department of Local Affairs grant, another $1.2 million grant from a different source, plus $2 million more collectively pledged by Delta County and the cities of Delta and Montrose, according to project documents. In addition, the Region 10 plan would cost local governments extra for extending fiber optic service to anchor institutions in their jurisdictions.

Region 10 envisages an eventual middle mile fiber network serving six counties and costing an estimated $17 million.

DMEA's venture into the fiber optic cable world began two years ago with a $3.9 million plan to connect its electric substations for in-house operations monitoring. DMEA is still working to complete those fiber optic loops.

Using its in-house operations fiber optic loop as its own "middle mile," the DMEA plan would then string fiber optic cable past, and eventually directly to, every customer meter in the DMEA electric service area, according to the report to BoCC.

Metheney told the commissioners that DMEA "will put our own network in" and will not use facilities or share fiber owned by others, Metheney explained.

As Region 10 was angling for the big public grants to build its middle mile network, it made agreements for shared use of some DMEA-owned lines, and also for direct Internet access from a national Internet hub at Albuquerque. Kurtz told the BoCC that DMEA would continue to honor its commitments to Region 10 under those agreements.

Region 10 officials have stated that an advantage to their middle mile system for the smaller, private ISPs is the low cost of Internet access available through Region 10's agreement with DMEA for source signal from Albuquerque. Those same ISPs would be able to source the same Albuquerque signal directly from Region 10's supplier -- DMEA. And, DMEA will itself be selling last mile Internet service to its members in Delta and Montrose counties.

During the report to the county commissioners Kurtz asked rhetorically, "How will [DMEA's fiber optic] system look when built? We don't know. But if someone asked me will we be in competition with Region 10, the answer is yes."

Region 10 director Michelle Haynes explained in an email, "The DMEA [fiber optic] lines between the communities are considered 'middle mile.' It is those lines that we will be sharing" with DMEA.

"As Region 10 does not intend to be a last mile provider, and plans to leave that to the private market (including, perhaps, DMEA), I am not certain that we consider our project to be competitive with DMEA. It may, however, offer competition between DMEA and other local providers, which we think may be good for the region if it enables more abundant broadband at more affordable pricing."

Haynes explained she sees continuing partnership, not competition, characterizing the DMEA/Region 10 relationship going forward. "Region 10 is pleased that DMEA has made a commitment to last mile services throughout the DMEA service area, and we hope to leverage our partnership with them and others to ensure that the county and communities have the service levels needed to be able to attract new jobs and residents."

The two DMEA officials said the co-op would release more details of its FTTP (fiber-to-the-premises) plan in coming days. They said there will be a "soft launch" of DMEA's project at the co-op's annual meeting in Montrose on June 16.

DMEA is proposing a years-long buildout. Kurtz told the BoCC, "Of course, every area wants to have [broadband] on day one. But not everyone can have it on day one."

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