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Southern Ute Indian Tribe paves way for high-speed internet with 52 miles of fiber

$60 million project to connect over 5,000 homes by completion
Shelly Hotter walks Tuesday down Goddard Avenue in Ignacio in 2015. At a joint meeting between Southern Ute Tribal Council and Durango City Council, Tribal information officer Jeff Engman said the second phase of a $60 million fiber optic broadband internet project that will eventually connect over 5,000 homes to high-speed internet has just begun. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has completed the first phase of a $60 million, 300-mile-plus fiber optic broadband internet project that will ultimately deliver high-speed internet services to over 5,000 homes across the Southern Ute Reservation.

At a quarterly joint meeting between the Southern Ute Tribal Council and Durango City Council, Tribal Councilor Stacey Oberly said 52 miles of fiber have been installed, and fiber connecting Durango’s Three Springs neighborhood to the town of Ignacio is undergoing testing.

She said the tribe is narrowing down possible internet service providers with at least two local providers in mind.

Jeff Engman of Southern Ute Shared Services said through the second phase, which is now underway, 260 miles of fiber will be laid over the next three years. The second phase will serve 2,800 households, including homes along Highway 151 to Pagosa Springs.

The plan is to thread fiber optic broadband across the reservation, from the west side down Wildcat Canyon to Highway 140 toward the New Mexico state line.

“We’re planning on filling in the center part of the reservation (with the most density), basically from south of La Posta Road all the way over toward the Buck Highway,” Engman said.

The project will deliver fiber optic broadband internet to every household in Ignacio, the town of Arboles and most communities in between. Fiber will run all the way to Pagosa Springs, making the Tribe’s network more resilient, Engman said.

“We do have some development outside of the reservation, but very limited. It’s just tying into Three Springs so we have access to the internet, and then catching some homes,” he said. “There’s a new subdivision near Elmore’s Corner we’re tying into.”

The Tribe is seeking grant funding to connect homes on the west side of the reservation and the east side near Aspen Springs.

Engman said the Tribe is using 144-strand fiber and has six fiber conduits on standby, essentially “future-proofing” the reservation’s internet infrastructure.

“Fiber technology has now even changed since we bought this conduit,” he said. “ … We can now put a 288-strand inside of those conduits. So we have six empty conduits for future use.”

The Tribe also looks to improve its cellular infrastructure on the reservation.

“Driving around the reservation or even in the county, you’re in-and-out of cell coverage,” Engman said. “So we’re looking to use our fiber optic footprint to include cellular coverage as well.”

EMS radio coverage across the reservation is also spotty, he said.

The Tribe is in talks with cell service titans AT&T and Verizon and is entering talks with T-Mobile, Engman said.

A problem for the project is most area service towers rely on wireless signals, not fiber optic broadband internet. The project would deliver broadband to the towers to boost their capabilities.

Engman said the total project will take at least five to six years to complete, and there is still a lot of work to be done.

The Tribe partnered with Bonfire Fiber to manage and operate its fiber broadband network. In August, a news release published by the Tribe said the development will improve education and health care access and make room for more job opportunities.


A previous version of this story misidentified Bonfire Fiber, the company working with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to manage new fiber optic broadband internet infrastructure.

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