County forges new paths with broadband system

The new tower on top of Lobo Mountain in Meeker is one of eight towers being placed throughout the county that will provide wireless broadband access for rural residents.

By Josh Jackson
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | Welcome to the 21st century of broadband internet in Rio Blanco County. The county is not just coming into the modern age with typical broadband internet, but instead, it is forging a new path by being in the top tier of internet capability through its ultra high-speed fiber initiative, Rio Blanco Broadband. Even though many understand some of the benefits of fiber broadband internet, here is some information to help clear up any possible misconceptions behind the initiative, as well as explaining who the current internet service providers are.
Rio Blanco Broadband began in earnest with a vote in 2014 authorizing the county to explore and implement public sector broadband solutions. The county used a combination of county funds and Colorado Department of Local Affairs grants to build a multi-million dollar fiber to the home network in Rangely and Meeker, while continuing its broadband expansion efforts with new wireless infrastructure to serve the more rural parts of the county. The county then contracted with Colorado Fiber Community (CFC) to manage and operate the network. CFC is responsible for ensuring that the network functions properly and that individual homes can be connected by the service providers. While the county still owns the actual infrastructure, CFC is responsible for bridging the crucial gap between the optic cables, the internet service providers and the subscribers. Because of their expertise in networking, they can efficiently build connections for providers and extend the network to subscribers, taking a huge load off of Rio Blanco County. However, CFC does not provide service to homes and businesses since this is the role of the local service providers.
Two local service providers, Local Access Internet (LAI– and Cimarron Telecommunications (Cimarron– offer services over the county’s fiber to the home network. Local Access Internet’s co-owners, Dale Smith and Joy Clymer, have deep roots in Rio Blanco going all the way back to the 1930s. Having 30 years experience in the field of networking, Smith decided to begin providing wireless internet services to Rio Blanco County residents as an alternative to the few options available before Rio Blanco Broadband. Now LAI offers state-of-the-art internet services over the Rio Blanco Broadband fiber network. LAI also provides technical troubleshooting for internet services as well as computerized devices, from PCs, to laptops and even cell phones. Smith also indicated that his customers have had 100 percent satisfaction. He credits this to the fact that LAI offers seven-day-a-week service with access to rural areas outside of city limits.
Cimarron Telecommunications began providing wireless internet service in Rio Blanco County in 2013, to help provide an alternative to the limited options that were then available. Bob Knight is the owner, but that does not prevent him from personally going out to numerous installs, troubleshooting connection issues or attending local events. Cimarron is working on helping subscribers explore the full benefits of fiber by utilizing other services. With streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sling TV and CBS All Access, many fiber users can cut their TV bill all together by choosing far more affordable alternatives. On top of that, Cimarron wants to help bring a new home phone option using voice over IP (VOIP). Using multiple services over fiber is not only a great way to get more out of a super speed connection, but also great for saving money as well. In the coming year, Cimarron plans to have more rural options, various levels of hosting services and even the ability to make homes smarter through the fiber service. A smart home would allow someone to control things like lights and temperature through the convenience of a smart phone.
Rio Blanco County is approaching an extremely exciting broadband age with the installation of a fiber network. In just three years, Meeker and Rangely have gone from having a single choice for limited bandwidth internet to multiple local companies offering some of the biggest bandwidth packages available in the nation. While setbacks are bound to happen in a project like this, the three-tiered model of a public network owner (the county), a network operator (CFC), and local private sector service providers (LAI and Cimarron) is doing an amazing job of providing significant improvements to the county’s broadband ecosystem.