More questions and answers on county’s broadband project

RBC I Recent questions regarding the new Rio Blanco Broadband fiber optic telecommunications services for residential and business locations have been expressed in the Herald Times with everyone wanting to know the details of this project.
The following “frequently asked questions” are offered in an effort to address those and other questions that may be helpful.

Q- Who exactly is running the show?
A- This is a complex project with many entities involved. Ultimately, Rio Blanco County owns the network.
Colorado Fiber Community (CFC) is the network operator. CFC is under contract to the county to manage, operate and maintain the network. For residents and businesses, our Value Added Resellers (VARs) like Cimarron Telecommunications or Local Access Internet will provide Internet and other services to them. The consumer will get their installation and billing through the VAR of their choosing.
Q- Why is the county involved?
A- Existing Internet service providers have a difficult time building out modern Internet infrastructure in rural locations like Rio Blanco County due to the low population over a large and complex topology, which creates a difficult or impossible business case. On Nov. 4, 2014, Rio Blanco County voters authorized the county to build and deliver modern Internet services, which launched the Rio Blanco Broadband Project.
“County ownership of the network gives the public a say in how their services are provided and a certain amount of control over who provides those services,” said Alex Telthorst, CFC’s general manager. “It also means that the companies that come into the project can’t pick and choose who gets Internet just because they live in a part of the county that’s difficult to serve.”
“Our goal is to have 100 percent accessibility to everyone who lives here,” said Blake Mobley, the IT director for Rio Blanco County. “If the homeowner chooses not to use the service, it’s their decision. But we want to make sure that everyone who wants it, gets a chance to use it and at a reasonable price.
Our ultimate goal is to ‘position’ the county as a modern, world-class destination for tourism, business growth, safe, healthy, happy living and as an ideal place to raise, educate and retain your family. To accomplish this community goal, we need quality Internet.”
Q- If I have a problem with my Internet, whom will I call?
A- Residential and Business customers will purchase services from a Value Added Reseller (VAR). That is who a customer will call if they have questions about their bill and services. If your chosen VAR is unresponsive, the issue can be escalated to Colorado Fiber Community (CFC), which will work with the VAR to resolve the issue. CFC is the network operator (manager) and will be fielding any questions or complaints about the VARs. Telthorst added, “The model has checks and balances in place to make sure quality and customer service excel.”
Q- What makes fiber optic so special?
A- The simplest way to put it is, it’s faster. According to muninetworks.org, “The capacity on the network is so great that it could offer tens of thousands of television channels while allowing thousands of people to talk on the phone while still offering Internet access at faster speeds than cable or DSL currently offer.” That means every person in the home can watch Netflix on different devices at the same time without any buffer problems.
The county’s goals are to have CFC and its partners provide modern broadband, which is FCC defined as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload for all county residents,” Mobley said. “More particularly, for the two towns within the fiber part of the project, we will have speeds as high as 1,000 Mbps download and 1,000 Mbps upload, known as Gig or 1 Gbps service. We are aiming for the gold-standard (set by Google Fiber) of 1 Gig of service at $70 a month price point.”
“Over these connections, the county wants CFC to arrange for what is known as triple play, which is Internet, television, and phone service options as well,” Mobley said.
Q- Do we really need a faster connection?
A-“It’s necessary to keep up with the rest of the world,” Mobley said. “It’s crucial for health care, emergency services, schools and economic development alone. If we don’t see better Internet here, people will not bring their businesses to (Rio Blanco County] and ultimately you’ll see people move away. We are not trying to keep up with the Joneses, we are safeguarding our community and its options as we move into the future.”
Q- Doesn’t glass fiber break easily? In snow-country will it hold up?
A- Without going into extreme detail, although it is made of glass on the inside, fiber is surprisingly strong. “Weather-related potential damage, such as from lightning, high winds, snowfalls, floods, etc., are negligible,” said Robert Knight, president of Cimarron Telecommunications (an authorized VAR). “Pathways are clearly marked and placed in the least-exposed areas to minimize potential service outages.” Additionally, according to muninetworks.org, “[It] is proven to be more resilient than power lines in ice storms and tornadoes.”
Q- What’s up with my driveway and lawn being spray-painted red, blue, green, orange and yellow?! And what’s up with all the little flags everywhere?
A- Those little flags and colored spray paint are called “locates” and they are marking the different types of utility lines under the ground. Blue is water, Red is electricity, Green is sewer, Orange is telecommunications and Yellow is gas. The utility companies have been asked to do this so the construction crews putting in new conduit (the rolls of orange pipe you’ve seen around town) won’t break through any existing pipe and cause service interruptions.
Q- How are they going to get the stuff into the ground without digging up the street? There’s not enough time to repave before winter.
A- The Circle H crews have horizontal boring machines that are putting the pipe in about three feet underground. “In most areas of the towns, it shouldn’t disturb roads, driveways, lawns, or sidewalks,” said Randy Beebe, the major projects superintendent for Circle H Construction. “There are smaller areas where handholds need to be put in and the ground needs to be worked on. But those are all being taken care of on a case-by-case basis. I promise you, we will fix up anything that gets torn up.”
Q- How will they get the fiber from the street to my house?
A- A “drop run” will be buried from the handhold in that block to the house. “CFC will be placing the drop runs, and reasonable drop-run expenses will be paid by a county/CFC arrangement,” Mobley said. “The drop-run fiber will be in a plastic-like conduit that can be run next to any utility with proper separation for that utility’s maintenance. The fiber will enter the house and terminate at the electronic device on the premises.
“The VARs will be the ones responsible for taking the fiber from the drop run into the house and hooking it up,” added Alex Telthorst, CFC general manager. “Those who would like to be first in line should pre-enroll with the VARs at their websites (listed below).”
Q- How much longer will this take?
A- “The Fiber to the Block (FTTB) project’s contract between the county and Circle H has a deadline of Dec. 11,” Mobley said. “However, all parties involved realize that inclement weather, easement challenges, etc., will push this deadline off until sometime mid-summer of 2016. That said, we also hope to be providing some areas of Meeker and Rangely with broadband service options by the end of 2015 if the project runs exceptionally smoothly.
“The Rural Tower Project (Phase II) has been funded, engineered, architecturally drawn and the county has engaged the BLM for required NEPA studies. The rural build-out will really get rolling this coming spring, and we hope to have the primary towers lit up with service by fall of 2016, serving a bit over half of our rural addresses. Then we will begin to build out the smaller relay towers (Phase III) to penetrate more deeply into our rural areas over the next several years.”
Q- Where should people go if they have questions?
A- 1. The county website at www.rbc.us/wcite; 2. The Network Operator’s site at www.coloradofibercommunity.com; Or 3. The VAR sites: www.cimarrontelecommunication.com or www.localaccess Internet.com.
Many more questions have been asked, but due to a lack of space, more questions will be answered in future updates.
Please feel free to write a letter to the editor or call Naomi LeGere, CFC outreach director at 970-549-6921.