Those who have been working to develop and expand broadband in western Colorado received good news this month.
The Partnerships for Opportunity, Workforce, and Economic Revitalization (POWER) program awarded Region 10 -- the six-county council of governments representing Delta, Montrose, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Ouray and San Miguel counties -- a $1.2 million grant to go toward its continued efforts in increasing access to affordable and abundant high speed Internet services.
The grant was leveraged by an existing $5.2 million agreement between the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) and several Region 10 communities involved in the early phases of the creation of a regional broadband network.
"When everything comes together like this, it gets very exciting," states Michelle Haynes, executive director of Region 10.
The first phase of the regional network will focus on construction of the necessary infrastructure in all Delta County communities and extend into the City of Montrose. The POWER funds will also be utilized for future phases extending into neighboring counties.
Region 10 was uniquely qualified for this funding for several reasons.
First, the funding specifically targeted communities which demonstrated a reliance upon coal mining as a primary employer. Approximately $15 million was set aside nationwide for communities which met this requirement.
Though the funding cannot replace the estimated $42 million impact of the recently lost coal mining jobs, the grant will serve to broaden and diversify the economic development strategies of the region. Broadband was identified as a primary economic barrier to all of the communities served by Region 10.
Region 10 also qualified because the funding was designed specifically for implementation, not planning. "There weren't many communities who were ready for the implementation phase," Haynes continues. "Since we had already started the planning a year ago, we were well positioned for the funding proposal."
Communities are currently mapping out the anchor institutions (e.g., government buildings, fire departments, hospitals, etc.) so they can place carrier-neutral locations (CNL) that can optimally serve all of the necessary community institutions.
Once in place, the CNLs will serve as hubs for Internet service providers to provide the "last mile" service, potentially bringing fiber to the residential households and commercial buildings. Additional redundancy measures will be built to minimize significant losses in Internet connectivity.
Delta County stands out in the region based on its commitment to supporting its communities. County leadership has agreed to ensure that each of its communities will have at least one CNL.
"No other county is doing that in our region," Haynes comments. "It's very commendable."
"Delta County believes that increasing the broadband capacity and redundancy in each part of the county will not only help the community, but will provide the infrastructure for private enterprise to deliver service direct to the business and private sectors," states Robbie LeValley, Delta County administrator.
The current timeline established by Region 10 and its Broadband Planning Committee estimates construction beginning in late spring or early summer of 2016.
"We are hoping by the end of 2016 to have the initial assets in place and some services available," Haynes adds.
To stay up to date on the local effort to expand broadband, interested parties are encouraged to follow online at www.region10.net/broadband.