RBC I A crane visible on the top of Lobo Mountain in Meeker Friday marked another milestone toward the completion of countywide broadband optic internet access. The crane installed the framework for a new fiber-fed tower, which, when “lit,” will give residents within an eight-mile radius access to wireless broadband internet.
The 135 ft. tower is the tallest one on the mountain, situated between WREA’s tower and Union Wireless’ tower. It’s one of eight towers to be installed countywide, including one at CNCC in Rangely. Four of the towers are on new sites, and four are “repurposed” sites. The towers will also provide opportunities for major cellular providers to service Rio Blanco County.
The wireless system will be available for homes and businesses that are not physically connected to the new fiber optic system.
For residents struggling with bandwidth restrictions on satellite internet or businesses which need the increased speed of the fiber option to improve efficiency, the implementation of the broadband project may seem like it’s taking forever, but in reality the project has been clipping along at a good pace.
The original goal for completion was Sept. 30, 2016. Several county anchor sites and 30 homes and businesses came online before that date and are already using the new system, with more coming online all the time as cable is laid to individual residences and commercial buildings.
For the fiber option, cable has to be buried and wired to each individual building, requiring “locates” for electric, water, sewer, gas and telecom lines before digging.
“Even a skiff of snow requires a new locate,” said Rio Blanco County IT director Blake Mobley, explaining some of the unexpected delays encountered in getting the cable installed. Thus far 25 miles of fiber cable has been laid in each town.
For the wireless option, once the towers are installed the next step is to add the electronics: dishes, radios and sector antennas.
“Everyone is working as fast as they can to get all the pieces in place and talking to each other,” Mobley said.
Thanks to what Mobley referred to as “a perfect storm” of events and an unusual collaboration between multiple entities, Rio Blanco County is one of the first government entities in the state of Colorado to implement their Broadband IT infrastructure and services plan. New Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) policy in 2014 opened access to governmental entities to apply for grants and “own” the infrastructure of a broadband network. The county owns the infrastructure, and contracts with service providers for the equipment and actual service. Local Access Internet and Cimarron Telecommunications will serve as the local providers for residents and businesses to access the new network.
That collaboration will culminate in a fiber optic and rural wireless network both surpassing federal regulations for broadband access, opening opportunities for local businesses to expand their internet options, and offering a significant attraction for internet-dependent businesses to locate in Rio Blanco County, from online gamers to web developers to financial consultants, and more. The possibilities for economic development are practically limitless.
Chattanooga, Tenn., pop. 175,000, was one of the first cities in the nation to adopt the municipally-owned broadband option for 1 gigabit internet, available since 2010, and has experienced significant economic and civic benefits from their investment. They’ve also realized they weren’t fully prepared for the influx of tech-savvy folks wanting to relocate. Like any other town in the midst of a boom, Chattanooga has experienced housing and employee shortages, but the economic growth and positive outlook has outweighed any negatives, according to most reports.
The collaboration between various groups and entities is one of the reasons Rio Blanco County was awarded “Community of the Year” in Colorado at this year’s Mountain Connect Broadband Development Conference.
“This award is a great honor that I’m humbled by,” said Blake Mobley, IT Director of Rio Blanco County. “Most of all, this award is a reflection of all of the support we’ve received from a lot of great partners including NWCOG, Colorado OIT, Colorado Fiber Community, and Mid-States Consultants.
“Above all, our county’s commissioners who have funded this project and partnered with Colorado Department of Local Affairs for additional funding to make this project a reality.”
Projected to take approximately three years, the Rio Blanco County broadband project, started in August 2014, is on track to make Meeker and Rangely, which will have identical systems, two of the most technologically-progressive communities in the state, and maybe in the country.