Daily Sentinel: A lesson in broadband projects

daily sentinelFrom The Daily Sentinel, by Dennis Webb

Venturing into public-sector broadband development has provided benefits and lessons for county and local governments in Colorado, according to speakers Tuesday at an annual conference.

Representatives from Rio Blanco County, Cortez, Glenwood Springs and Fort Morgan were among speakers at the Mountain Connect Broadband Development Conference that was held Sunday through Tuesday in Keystone.

Cortez and Glenwood Springs have had municipal broadband projects since the early 2000s. Rio Blanco County has been in the process of installing an ambitious countywide project in cooperation with entities such as the towns of Rangely and Meeker and the state Department of Local Affairs.

Fort Morgan is in the design phase of a project, following frustration about having companies decide against expanding locally because of lack of adequate local broadband capacity.

Josh Miller, Fort Morgan’s community services and economic development director, said the community also wants to cater to telecommuters looking to take advantage of Fort Morgan’s proximity to Denver International Airport.

Rick Smith, general services director for the city of Cortez, said the city’s broadband infrastructure proved crucial when the locally based Osprey Packs outdoor gear company was looking to expand and was deciding whether to do so in Cortez or in other locations such as Salt Lake City.

“It became a nonstarter if we had not had fiber” availability, said Smith, who said that in that case Osprey “would have been gone” rather than ultimately deciding to expand locally.

Now surrounding Montezuma County is looking to build on what Cortez has done by seeking voter authority for the county to get into broadband. It also may ask voters to create a broadband authority and support it with a one-cent sales tax.

Bob Farmer, information services director for Glenwood Springs, took a philosophical view to the importance of that city’s project.

“Obviously I feel broadband is very important to what we do, to what Glenwood Springs is, to make Glenwood Springs better,” he said.

“I want my children to have adequate access to technology when they grow up and that starts with me. It doesn’t start with waiting for them to do something.”

Blake Mobley, Rio Blanco’s information technology director, said communication with affected parties has been important during the installation phase of that county’s fiber project when it comes to dealing with issues such as impacts on streets and alleys during installation. Speakers also told of the need to do installations that can accommodate future upgrades as electronics evolve and broadband speeds increase, and also accommodate an increase in customer numbers over time.

Miller said Fort Morgan officials have visited Glenwood Springs and other communities already involved in broadband to learn from their experiences as Fort Morgan embarks on its project.

Mobley said Rio Blanco County has benefited from a long-term relationship with Meeker, Rangely, the local school district and other entities at the information-technology staff level. When the county asked the communities about overlaying the two towns with its broadband network, “they were more than happy to allow us to utilize their right-of-ways,” he said.

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