Hopes dashed for wireless web network in Gunnison County

Crested Butte doesn’t qualify for money under new rules

A plan to put fiber-optic cables across the Gunnison Valley and bring a wireless web mesh network to the municipalities faded away with the funding, after federal rule changes put Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte out of the running for the stimulus money.

 

 

Gunnison-based Internet Colorado owner Jason Swenson’s idea of improved Internet infrastructure and added jobs just wasn’t in the cards—its feasibility reduced to zero after a proposal for a similar project in the city of Gunnison, which would have been the vital link to the north end of the valley, was denied.
“Everything just kind of fell apart,” Swenson says. “On the second round of funding, they weren’t considering any areas with any type of service availability, whatsoever. That disqualified Gunnison too, so they hit us from every which-way.”
Together the Rural Utility Services (RUS) Broadband Initiatives Program and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will be shelling out $7.2 billion in stimulus funds to increase the capacity for high-speed Internet service in underserved communities. Of that, $2.8 billion was slated to go to rural communities.
The money that is awarded will be divvied up among communities in two installments, and after Swenson submitted a proposal for the project on their behalf, the city of Gunnison had hoped to dip into the first distribution.
Municipalities across the country requested $27 billion from that fund and some of the requests Swenson knew of were for $25 million or $50 million. Gunnison’s application was for $1.1 million and the application for Crested Butte would have requested just $700,000 to $800,000.
But Swenson says it “looks like they just ran out of money.”
“Our proposal for the City of Gunnison, as of a couple days ago, received a denial letter, based on one problem: we did not include any unserved areas in our proposal,” Swenson said in a letter to Crested Butte Town Manager Susan Parker. “Since the City of Gunnison proposal met all the original criteria for underserved and that money was going to run short, we are assuming that unserved proposals from around the country took priority.”
But it looks like so far none of those areas are in Colorado, since the “state basically hasn’t gotten anything awarded to them,” so far in the disbursement of grant funds, Swenson says.
He added that there is still a cooperative in the state that hasn’t gotten a determination on its grant application.
But the idea is just too good for Swenson to forget about. He said he would be pursuing a low-interest rural loan program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund the Gunnison proposal and the same program could work for Crested Butte.
“There is a back-up, but it won’t be anything quick or easy,” he says.
According to County Manager Matthew Birnie, Swenson’s subsequent plan to extend the fiber-optic infrastructure toward Paonia is also encountering trouble with the Forest Service, which would have to approve a corridor of minor development to make the plan feasible.
“Unless you can show that it is impossible any other way and cost is not an option, then it is probably not an option,” he said. “So a route through Forest Service land is probably not going to be successful.”
So, as it stands, the hope of a web mesh network coming to Crested Butte and Gunnison County is over for the moment.

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