High speed internet has long been a top priority for Delta County Economic Development, which has partnered with the Economic Development Administration, Region 10, DMEA, Delta County and municipalities to bring what is widely recognized as an "essential service" to western Colorado.
A pivotal moment in the effort came in November 2014, when DCED made a strong showing at a DMEA board meeting. That grassroots effort helped energize the DMEA board and staff, and it's that type of grassroots support that will keep Elevate Fiber moving forward to cover DMEA's entire service territory, according to Jason Bronec, CEO of Delta-Montrose Electric Association.
Elevate Fiber is the subsidiary behind DMEA's fiber network, but Bronec said it's taken every one of DMEA's 100 employees to launch the fiber network.
Bronec provided a project update during DCED's annual meeting April 20 in Orchard City.
Last fall, a portion of Paonia became the first area to receive service from Elevate. Installations in Orchard City are underway. By early summer, gigabit service will be available for customers in Hotchkiss.
The announcement that Elevate Fiber currently has 650 customers was greeted with enthusiastic applause by those attending the DCED meeting. In the crowd were several Elevate customers who said the service is delivering "as advertised."
Total buildout will take four to five years, Bronec said, who urged DMEA customers to preregister on the DMEA website. "That's what drives where we're headed into the future," he said.
"There's no question broad band is an essential service," he added, "but we're not only bringing internet service to our communities. From an electric operations point of view, it opens the door to a fiber network that will accommodate a lot of the new technology within the electric industry, including the concept of distributed generation where consumers can either buy power from DMEA or sell power to DMEA."
Bronec said it's important for cooperative members to understand that DMEA rates are not subsidizing the activities associated with fiber. The two operations are kept very separate.
On the contrary, the ability to spread fixed costs -- from accounting to human resources to warehousing -- will allow DMEA to control costs and keep electric rates low.
He highlighted broadband as an economic development tool that will open the door for new business, teleworkers and distance learning.
He addressed the cost of getting fiber into rural areas, saying it will take all of DMEA's membership banding together to provide service in rural areas. He spoke of the universal benefit fnd that enabled telephone companies to drive down the cost of serving rural areas, and said that's a legislative strategy DMEA is exploring.
During DCED's business meeting, executive director Trish Thibodo touched on another major project -- the ENGAGE Innovation Center at Delta. This project involves the collaborative use of the Chaco building purchased by Delta-Montrose Technical College.
DCED board president Brad Harding closed the business meeting by urging community partners to stand with DCED to shape the future of Delta County. "Let's dream a great big dream and see if we can make it a reality," he said.