Broadband program marching forward; first towers to be lit in June

RBC | Rio Blanco County’s broadband project is garnering increasing state and national attention for its innovative approach to bringing 1 gigabit fiber optic broadband internet to both businesses and private homes throughout the county, and 25 megabit service to rural areas.
While many are still waiting for their homes and businesses to be connected to the new system, progress is moving steadily forward. At this point the mainlines in both Meeker and Rangely are complete, allowing Colorado Fiber Community (CFC) to make “drops” to individual homes and businesses. Currently, there are approximately 320 homes and businesses and a number of local anchor institutions already online. CFC anticipates the number of “lit” addresses to increase to 700 by the end of the summer, and more by the end of 2017.
For in-town residents who can be connected via the mainline, CFC plans to release a public website in June that will provide information about which areas are already connected, which are about to be completed, and which ones are on the schedule. Customers who are already online can expect to receive a customer experience survey in the next few weeks from CFC.
In response to questions about why certain blocks have been connected and others haven’t, RBC IT Director Blake Mobley said sometimes that’s dependent on the way the fiber optic system “loops” and sometimes it’s dependent on getting all the locates necessary to dig. Each locate to each home and/or block requires individual information from each of the infrastructure operators connected to an address—electric, natural gas, water, sewer, cable and telephone, among others—which takes time. Homeowners and renters also need to make sure they (or their landlords) have signed up with one of the county’s local providers, LAI or Cimarron, to be placed on the drop list.
Rural customers, who will rely on towers and wireless signals to access the county’s broadband infrastructure, also have a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The eight primary towers will begin to be “lit” in June, beginning with the towers on Lobo Mountain in Meeker and at the CNCC campus in Rangely. The other six towers get lit off those two, and then the project will begin focusing on secondary towers that will increase rural coverage.
“We saved enough money on the primary towers we didn’t spend all of our DOLA (Department of Local Affairs) grant. We’ve gone back to DOLA and asked for a scope change and a time change to apply that (money) to installing secondary towers,” Mobley said. Once the signed DOLA grant amendment is received, the county can begin implementing deeper rural coverage. Mobley noted that there will be places in the county that will still not have access because of our complex topography. Rural access via wireless is dependent on line-of-sight access to a tower.
Besides speaking before the state legislature regarding broadband, Mobley was recently invited to be a presenter at two conferences, one in Arizona and one in Texas. At the Next Century Cities’ Digital Southwest Conference in Mesa, Ariz., Mobley was a presenter on the rural and tribal broadband panel. At the Broadband Communities 2017 Summit in Dallas, Texas, Mobley joined panelists from Sweden, Bozeman, Mont.; and Kitsap PUD, Wash., on the Open Access Fiber Networks Success Stories Panel, which was one of a few panels chosen for the Editor’s Choice Track. In addition, Mobley has presented to Custer County’s broadband group in south central Colorado.
Last Friday Rio Blanco County hosted the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) first broadband steering committee meeting in Meeker, speaking to representatives from an eight county area about the data center, broadband and the fiber optic LAN (Local Access Network) installed in the renovated courthouse. Mobley said “to his knowledge” the Rio Blanco County Courthouse is the first courthouse in the state to apply this state-of-the-art technology, which has now been adopted by the DoD (Department of Defense) as its new standard.