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Valley joining together to help pay for expanded broadband infrastructure

It’s like a plumbing job

by Mark Reaman

A conglomeration of local government entities agreed on Tuesday to pony up some matching funds and apply for a grant that should help pay to bring in faster, cheaper broadband service to the county.

The Crested Butte Town Council was the final entity to sign on and they did so at a special meeting on Monday, November 30.

Crested Butte committed up to $40,410 to help pay for the “backbone” of the upgraded fiber system. Gunnison County and the city of Gunnison committed the same match, while Mt. Crested Butte will be throwing in closer to $120,000 in order to get the fiber network up to its town hall.

Each government entity signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Region 10 to apply to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) for the so-called “middle mile” of broadband infrastructure. The total cost of the installation would be about $811,000.

Fiber will connect Montrose, Gunnison, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte. It will be run to so-called “Carrier Neutral Locations (CNLs)” in each community such as the marshal’s office in Crested Butte. From there, private Internet supply companies like IC Connex and Xtream Internet will be able to tap in and offer faster broadband to individual consumers.

Crested Butte town manager Todd Crossett told the council that if the grant is received, which is expected, implementation of the project would likely occur in 2017.

“The MOU with Region 10 allows us to back out if things change but this is an opportunity to throw our hat into the ring for a good project,” he said.

“So the bottom line is we could get more capacity at cheaper rates,” concluded mayor Glenn Michel.

“It is like a plumbing project,” added county community development director Russ Forrest. “You are paying to get infrastructure. You are leveraging $40,000 for an $800,000 project to get better quality and significantly cheaper broadband.”

Councilman Roland Mason asked if subdivisions such as Crested Butte South or Skyland could tap into the new system.

Forrest said while the initial lines have to go from one Century Link office to another, the private Internet providers could go out from the CNLs to other nearby population centers. “It is not a silver bullet that will be available to everyone in the county but there is opportunity for others not located in just the primary municipalities,” he explained.

“This is one of those things that won’t necessarily help a luddite like me,” said councilman Jim Schmidt. “If it takes me five seconds instead of 10 seconds to download a movie, it won’t change my life but I see it as a benefit to the overall community.”

“It makes sense to pursue this,” said councilperson Laura Mitchell.

“I’m all for it,” added councilperson Erika Vohman.

So was the rest of the council as they voted 6-0 to sign the MOU and pursue the project in conjunction with the other local governments. Councilman Chris Ladoulis was not at the meeting.

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