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County endorses DMEA grant request

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The Board of County Commissioners officially endorsed a request by DMEA for grant funding to help with the build out of its broadband fiber-optic network.

In a letter to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) the county commissioners stated:

"The Delta County Board of Commissioners is sending this letter for the purpose of our official support for DMEA's request for grant funding from the Colorado High Cost Fund."

According to Becky Mashburn, marketing supervisor for DMEA, "We are pursuing grant funding to help assist with the build out of our fiber network in a few zones across the service territory. The goal is to secure funding to help build fiber in places where factors like terrain and/or low [population] density result in higher build costs.

"We have identified some of what we consider our highest cost zones and have submitted them for consideration. Our selections were based on multiple criteria and one of the most important factors we evaluated, along with our consultants, was choosing zones we believe have the best chance of being funded.

The county commissioners' endorsement letter notes the same obstacles to fiber-optic build out as noted by Mashburn. "It is a continuing challenge to provide our [Delta County] citizens with services in these remote communities given the distances involved and low population densities. We realize that these are the same challenges faced by internet providers when they evaluate these towns for services. With the high up-front costs and comparatively low returns of building broadband infrastructure, it can be difficult to make a good business case for capital investment in these rural communities."

According to internet information sources, the Colorado High Cost Fund was established originally some years ago to help provide telephone voice service to remote areas.

A posting from the 2017 Colorado General Assembly explains a bill to update the High Cost Fund's new use for broadband: "The bill updates language regarding the use of money from the High Cost Support Mechanism (HCSM) for broadband deployment grant applications approved by the broadband deployment board to have money transferred directly from the HCSM to approved broadband deployment grant applicants. The public utilities commission is directed to determine the amount of HCSM money available for broadband deployment and related administrative costs, and the bill requires that amount to be held in a separate account [from the basic voice fund]."

Though supporting the DMEA request for funding from the High Cost Fund, the Delta County commissioners on Sept. 18 declined a similar request from CenturyLink for an endorsement of its bid for state broadband funds.

Noting what he considered to be drawbacks to the CenturyLink request, Commissioner Don Suppes voiced concerns about the "form letter" the company had apparently mailed to other counties in the state. Suppes said the request "was not in the county's best interest" adding that the CenturyLink broadband proposal "doesn't cover the entire county."

Commission Chair Doug Atchley agreed with Suppes' assessment, calling the CenturyLink proposal "very little, very late" and noting also the county's commitment to participate in the Region 10 middle mile broadband project which the county promised to support before DMEA decided to enter the fiber-optic broadband business.

According to a Denver Post article, CenturyLink, the state's largest phone company, in 2013 was in line to receive over $48 million from the HCSM when it was devoted to basic voice communication services only.

The commissioners in their letter to DORA also stated, "We have partnered with DMEA on countless projects through the years and are currently working with them as they build their high-speed fiber network throughout the county.

"Many of our smaller communities and rural households have access to broadband only through fixed wireless facilities or satellite delivery systems. The fixed wireless services rely on line-of-sight, which [is] all but impossible in many areas of our mountainous county. Satellite services are unreliable and many times cost prohibitive for our rural families."

Noting the county's commitment to the Region 10 middle mile system, the commissioners' letter states, "DMEA's last mile fiber build complements the efforts of Region 10 and our broadband strategy for the region."

Delta County government sees broadband service in general as important to economic development here. The commissioners' letter explains, "Efforts to diversify and grow the economy continue to be front and center in Delta and Montrose counties. But any successful regional transformation will require the involvement of both government and large organizations like DMEA."

Word on whether DMEA will receive a grant from the High Cost Fund is expected by year's end, DMEA's Mashburn explained, "The application period ends [mid-September] and we should have an update on the status by the end of December.

"While this funding is not necessarily guaranteed, we felt compelled to pursue this opportunity in response to our members' feedback regarding their immense need for better internet service. We'll continue to pursue opportunities, like this, when they present themselves in order to help speed up our build out process and decrease the overall cost at the same time."

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broadband, commissioners, DMEA, grants
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