More grants eyed for Region 10 internet

By Hank Lohmeyer


The Region 10 broadband project is looking to the state for more grant money to extend fiber optic cable to "anchor institutions" within local communities. The Region 10 plan has received grant commitments from the state and federal governments, and also cash support from the cities of Delta and Montrose and Delta County.

At a planning session for community leaders July 19 at the courthouse, representatives from Region 10, Delta County, Cedaredge, Hotchkiss, and the library and school districts heard a discussion on extending service to anchor institutions. The planning session was the first held by Region 10 for local officials as a group since last November. No representatives from the hospital district or from Paonia, Orchard City or Crawford attended.

The agenda was led by Brian Shephard of the state's Office of Information Technology and Charlie Wick of the Colorado TeleHealth Network. They outlined various scenarios whereby grant money sourced from a federal telephone tax and distributed via state programs might be available for anchor institutions through the Region 10 broadband system. The money would be available for qualifying schools, libraries and health care facilities, they explained. The money could be used either to extend fiber optic service to the institutions or to pay the institutions' monthly service fees to a private internet service provider (ISP).

The idea represents a change in the Region 10 system configuration.

In the past, Region 10 planned proposed funding from the county's local municipal governments themselves for anchor institution fiber optic cable installation. Local municipal officials have pushed back on that idea. The towns have asked why they should have to pay for broadband service extended to other taxing entities within their jurisdictions.

Anchor institutions with taxing authority like the hospital, library, schools and fire districts have not made firm commitments to be part of the Region 10 project. In addition, Delta-Montrose Electric Association officials have told the county commissioners that the DMEA broadband system will likely compete directly with Region 10 for anchor institution business. Two of the municipalities that were not represented at the July 19 session, Paonia and Orchard City, have been selected as the first eligible to receive DMEA broadband service.

Michelle Haynes, Region 10 director, said the organization's plan is to have fiber optic cable installed in Delta and Montrose by the end of the current construction season. She also said there have been more than a half dozen responses from private sector ISPs interested in participating with the Region 10 project.

The Region 10 project is a publicly funded middle mile system that shares some operating facilities and agreements with DMEA. The Region 10 system as currently configured will rely on private sector ISPs to supply internet content to home and business subscribers. By contrast, the DMEA system is a direct fiber optic cable to individual homes or business sourced through DMEA's own middle mile network. Internet service will be provided by a wholly owned DMEA subsidiary.

Discussion at last week's courthouse session ranged broadly with Haynes and consultant Diane Kruse of NEO Fiber pointing to the Region 10 system as being a "community asset." All of the county's municipalities have voted to opt out of state restrictions against local government participation in the broadband/telecommunications business. That view could open a door to the county's municipal governments themselves entering the field as ISPs marketing telecommunications services as a municipal utility enterprise.