Region 10 making big gains with local broadband expansion

Cottonwood Pass fiber project almost complete

[ by Mark Reaman ]

Gunnison County is on the cusp of having fully functional fiber optic broadband service over Cottonwood Pass that will provide the opportunity for the elusive redundancy people have been hoping to see for decades. The new service is expected to be operational by the end of this month.

Region 10 broadband director Corey Bryndal said this week that the fiber has been installed and is ready to use. Lumen (formerly CenturyLink) is activating the fiber and will make it available for customers. Network operators like Region 10 and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can now place orders to use the fiber. Region 10 is an organization that supports six counties including Gunnison, in developing projects that support the local governments within the region. Broadband expansion has long been a priority of Region 10.

“We have purchased routers and are preparing to install equipment that will allow us to direct Region 10’s traffic on the fiber coming from Montrose to Gunnison and now the fiber from Gunnison toward Buena Vista to Denver,” Bryndal explained. “This will allow us to utilize both pathways and should provide advantages for the organizations we serve. Building in redundancy of course depends on to what degree the local providers use it, but it is definitely a significant development. We’ve never had an eastbound route out of Gunnison County and now we do.”

Bryndal said he is aware of at least one local ISP purchasing space on the Cottonwood route and that is Visionary Broadband, formerly IC Connex. He said other ISPs are also looking at the service and determining the cost-benefit analysis.

Gunnison County has experienced some major outages over the last several years in part because of the single line of fiber servicing the county. The Cottonwood Pass fiber should provide a backup in case of major issues on the line from Montrose to Gunnison even though Bryndal emphasized that outages impacting us can occur because of problems taking place in other areas around the state.

“Lumen and Gunnison County deserve a lot of credit for taking advantage of the opportunity to get fiber over Cottonwood Pass,” said Bryndal. “It will be a really good addition to the county’s network and we are hearing it should be live by the end of November or early December at the latest.”

Coming up the valley
The Cottonwood Pass project is not the only improvement in the works when it comes to local and area broadband expansion. Region 10 just purchased 32 miles of fiber and is partnering with the Gunnison County Electric Association and other area institutions to get it up and running between Gunnison and Crested Butte.

Bryndal said that work is expected to begin next summer and will allow for open access in the valley that in theory could bring down costs for Internet service.

The fiber will be strung between GCEA poles or buried underground between the so-called Carrier Neutral Locations (CNLs) in the municipalities. The CNL in Crested Butte is located at the Marshal’s Office. Bryndal said Region 10 is working with Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte South to develop CNLs as well. From there, ISPs will be able to hook into the fiber and provide service to homes and businesses.

“This new cable will also provide redundancy for people in the valley,” explained Bryndal. “It allows new space for telecom providers and institutions like the hospital, school district and local governments could all benefit.”

Other projects
A little further away, Bryndal said Region 10 is working to get fiber between Ohio City and Pitkin. This should benefit cell service and Internet in Pitkin. Lake City will also see significant improvements in the near future as a plan is in place to provide high-speed service to homes through partnership between Region 10 and Visionary Broadband. Construction for that Lake City service is expected to begin next spring.

“I have to say that the Colorado Department of Local Affairs has actively been helping with broadband in this area through a number of grants,” said Bryndal. “They really want to support rural communities with expanded broadband and it is starting to show results.”

In the bigger picture, Bryndal said the goal is to get this area connected to the broadband backbone that runs throughout the state and greater region.

Gunnison County can eventually connect with Project Thor in Glenwood Springs and from there, throughout the greater northern part of Colorado. There are also efforts to connect with the service in Durango and Cortez. Bryndal says such expansion requires the purchasing of a lot of fiber, but the benefits would be tremendous.

“For example, Western Colorado University could reliably connect to educational STEM resources on the Front Range,” he said. “Ultimately Region 10 will have Gunnison County connected to Denver, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque. It will provide opportunities that everyone here has talked about, but we’ve never been able to achieve.”

So while a number of projects are in the works to provide opportunity for better broadband reliability in the valley, that doesn’t mean every Internet and cell service issue will be solved immediately. But steps are being taken to improve the access and reliability currently available.

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