RBC commissioners discuss broadband stall

RBC | Rio Blanco County Commissioners Si Woodruff and Jeff Rector gathered for their monthly Rangely meeting on Monday followed by a broadband work session.
The commissioners quickly approved a license agreement with T-Mobile for access to various county-owned towers, which will allow them to place antennas on those towers.
Woodruff informed the group that Reed Kelley of Meeker was nominated to represent Rio Blanco County at Club 20 as a voting member.
Following the regular meeting the commissioners moved into a work session about the current state of the county’s broadband internet project. The project is close to reaching a stalling point due to a lack of funds for further hook ups to homes and businesses. According to Rector the county awarded $200,000 last month to keep the program going, however that money is almost completely gone. There are currently 1,350 completed hook ups, however, Rector expressed concern that they may not make the expected 1,500 in 2017.
Dale Smith from Local Access Internet, an internet service provider, approached the commissioners to urge the county to further fund the project allowing for more hook ups. Smith expressed concerns that the weather would soon prevent any more hook ups and that any customers that were missed would find another provider and be lost to LAI and other locally based providers. Smith was also worried that if Colorado Fiber Community is forced to find outside funding from a source other than the county, CFC would be influenced to change approved service providers that “don’t have roots here.” Smith implored the commissioners to hold a town hall style meeting allowing locals to ask questions about the project.
Blake Mobley, county IT director, told the commissioners that if the program is allowed to grow organically without a cash infusion it would be at a very slow pace, likely only adding more connections every five to six months. He also said that CFC estimates that they will need an additional $628,000 to finish hook ups.
“I’m very on board with the whole broadband project. But from the time I was sworn in this has been a deal on top of another deal. Now the finger is pointing back at us,” Rector said.
“We are in between a rock and a hard spot,” Woodruff said. “Give us a little time. I don’t see us reacting with an answer very quickly.” Woodruff also expressed frustration that the initial plan of hooking up homes on a first come first served basis wasn’t followed through, saying, “I’m getting a little tired of everyone patting themselves on the back, but now we’re going to go all winter without any more (new hook ups).” The plan of first come first served was abandoned early in the project when it was determined that it made logistical and fiscal sense to run hook ups to all of one block or area at one time before moving on.
Former county commissioner Ken Parsons asked about the future of wireless service for those living outside of town. Mobley informed him that final sector alignments on the wireless towers would occur by end of month and first test cases should follow. He also said that some of the equipment for the project is already on hand. However, Mobley said that the down river community is not within line of sight for one of the existing towers and will require a new tower to get signal. Mobley said they have $600,000—half from a DOLA grant and half from the county, specifically for rural towers—that must be spent by October 2018.