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Internet links may fuel local economy

Herald Staff Report

Local government and school officials announced Tuesday they expect more than a billion-dollar impact on the Western Slope’s future economic development from plans to run high-speed Internet lines from Durango to Silverton and Ouray to Ridgway.

“This is a significant development for all Western Slope communities,” said Lynn Padgett, Ouray county commissioner.

The announcement came after officials last week released a statewide map of the plans for the new EAGLE-Net system, the product of a $100 million federal grant issued in 2010 to improve Internet access for public and anchor institutions in rural areas.

“Thanks to EAGLE-Net, we now only need 21 miles of fiber-optic line from Ouray to Silverton to complete a ‘Billion Dollar Information Superhighway’ (that would improve Internet access) for the entire Western Slope,” Greg Swanson of Operation Linkup, a regional telecom advocacy organization, said in a news release.

Ed Morlan, director of Region 9 Economic Development District, called the incoming infrastructure “critical” for the Southwest. He said the project will close two of three missing gaps in the region’s fiber-optic lines along U.S. Highway 550 between Durango and Montrose.

Padgett said the improvements are essential to attracting entrepreneurs to the area, as well as retaining and expanding business and educational efforts already here.

For Silverton and other similarly isolated Colorado communities, the work is “of special significance,” said Kim White, Silverton school superintendent. The project will reach nearly every school district in the state, she said.

A planning conference is scheduled for March 22 in Ridgway at the Community Center to allow interested parties to review the EAGLE-Net plans. For more information, visit www.operation-linkup.org.

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