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Southwest Colorado needs fiber-optic lines for faster internet speeds

Regional council of governments aims for 2018 construction
Fiber lines have been installed alongside electrical lines throughout the region, but they are less susceptible to damage when they are buried, said Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments.<br><br>)

For internet service to get faster and cheaper across southern Colorado, more fiber-optic lines are needed.

New publicly- or grant-funded fiber lines between communities could be leased to private companies to create more competition and increase internet speeds, said Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments. The council includes most of the city and county governments in La Plata, Montezuma, Dolores, Archuleta and San Juan counties.

The council’s recently completed broadband internet plan found that average internet download speeds in the region do not meet the standard set by the Federal Communications Commission.

To improve service, the council plans to apply for grants and work with partners to build fiber-optic lines across the region that would be open to all private providers.

Construction on all lines is expected to cost about $53 million and could start in 2018, Gillow-Wiles said. The pace of construction will depend on funding, she said.

Many towns have already installed fiber loops needed to use the high-speed fiber lines. These were paid for with a grant through the council. Without these loops, the new lines would be useless. “It’s like having interstate in your community and not having an off-ramp. It doesn’t behoove a community to have high-speed internet if there is no way to use it,” she said.

One important partner in the next phase of construction will be the Colorado Department of Transportation because it plans to build fiber lines along the state’s highways to connect its cameras and programmable signs and improve communications. The improvements will allow CDOT to better track weather, road conditions and traffic.

Open-access fiber lines could be installed alongside CDOT lines in the same trenches, Gillow-Wiles said. Digging the trenches is one of the most expensive pieces of installing fiber.

In addition, some fiber lines would be eligible for grants aimed at connecting anchor institutions like medical facilities, schools and libraries. There are 193 institutions in the region that are not connected to fiber, the plan found.

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs and the federal government could also provide grant money. President Donald Trump’s administration has placed an emphasis on infrastructure projects, although it’s unclear what that funding might look like. “Federal officials seem to understand this is a massive issue, not just Colorado but the country in general, so there is some willpower to do some of this,” Gillow-Wiles said.

Some lines between communities exist, but many are owned by CenturyLink, which has limited excess fiber to lease, and it is not interested in creating open-access infrastructure, she said.

Other lines are installed on power lines, which are more susceptible to damage than those buried in the ground, Gillow-Wiles said.

A few communities in the region, such as Rico, are islands. An internet provider in Rico decided not to provide internet to the town at the end of December, and the future of the town’s internet service is uncertain.

“Rico, Silverton and Pagosa are all sort of islands when it comes to open-access infrastructure,” she said.

The region also needs more lines to link it to the major internet hubs outside the region.

Open-access lines from Bayfield to Pagosa Springs and then from Pagosa to South Fork would create more redundancy.

Lines are also needed from Dolores into Rico and north to Telluride, she said.

Once complete, lines with bandwidth of at least a gigabit per second would be installed to every county seat in the region.

Each community would have to decide whether, or how, to build fiber lines to businesses and residents.

When companies don’t have to build infrastructure, those costs aren’t passed on to residents and businesses.


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