County fiber project moves forward

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RBC | LAI Customer Options
Earlier this month the county commissioners made the decision to terminate their contract with Meeker’s Local Access Internet (LAI) following a months-long audit into their service payments to the county. According to the audit LAI owes more than $10,000 in unpaid connections. Because of the contract cancellation LAI will no longer be able to conduct new installations for both fiber and wireless services. However, according to RBC Communications Director Cody Crooks, they are required to maintain customer service and invoices for all of their current existing customers until those customers can been transferred to a new provider. The only other provider currently available in the area is Cimarron, but Crooks said that the county is, “diligently working on finding a new service provider and is currently in the interview stage with a total of four candidates.” Crooks anticipates the transition period will be completed by Dec. 27. “Existing LAI customers are more than welcome to stay with LAI until the end of the transition period and then roll over to the new service provider or they can contact the county’s other existing service provider (Cimarron), and transfer their services over to them. Whichever route the customer decides to make, their internet service will not be affected,” said Crooks. He warned that customers who are not directly connected to the county fiber or wireless network will have other issues. “As far as the customers that are connected through the daisy-chain connection with a fiber source, the county cannot control the Ubiquiti equipment because the county does not own that equipment. If you are concerned that your equipment does not belong to the county, you can contact 970-878-9545 for verification.”
Remote Towers
Early in the fiber process the county determined they would install towers to shoot the internet signal into remote areas of Rio Blanco. Since then they have decided to change the initially proposed secondary towers from stationary, or fixed, towers to mobile towers.
“This decision was made because once we reach our final goal with fiber expansions throughout the county, stationary towers (meant for wireless connections), would then become abandoned in areas that now had fiber. The county believes that this would ultimately be a waste of tax payer dollars because the towers hold very little to no resale value,” Crooks said via email. The mobile towers will allow the county to move a tower to a new location once a fiber expansion is completed in that covered area. “The mobile towers hold a very respectful resale value, so in the event that it becomes no longer useful to the project, the county can then sell it off to another entity and take the proceeds and put it back into the project for more fiber expansions,” he added.
Another benefit Crooks found with the mobile towers is their ability to go up without requiring soil samples, as they will not need a concrete foundation. “This in turn, will allow for more funding to purchase more towers. With the costs of the stationary towers and construction of them, our funding would have only allowed approximately six or seven towers to be constructed in 2019. The savings have allowed us to purchase three or four more in order to reach as many citizens as possible in the upcoming build out stage,” he said.
The county has not yet decided where the 10 secondary towers will go up first, but Crooks expects them to be fully operational by the end of September 2019. The primary focus areas for service are south and down river from Rangely, CR 7 (Strawberry Creek), CR 6, CR 15, CR 8, Piceance Creek area, Powell Park area, and the Baseline and Mesa area of Meeker.
Since the broadband project began in 2015 the county has hooked up 1,520 customers countywide to the fiber and wireless service. To date the project has cost the county $12.46 million. According to Crook, of the $12.46 million spent, $1.5 million was paid out of the County Capital Improvement Trust Fund (CCITF), they received $3.02 million in DOLA grant funds, and the remaining was paid by FML Distribution, fund balance and current year revenue. On Jan. 1, 2018, the county took over the role of network operator in the system and by the end of August had received $307,370 in revenue.
“The amount of progress that we have accomplished in the last two years is absolutely tremendous compared to other broadband projects of this magnitude and detail, which normally take five to 10 years to complete,” Crooks said.