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Significant success achieved in broadband initiative

Garfield County is a leader in the state for middle-mile internet infrastructure

April 17, 2024

Garfield County has nearly completed the first two parts of a three-phase initiative to bring more reliable, robust, and affordable internet service to the citizens of Garfield County. The county’s efforts to advance strong internet service to households and businesses aligns with the Board of County Commissioners’ policy directives and project goals for 2024 and is a key component of the county’s economic department portfolio.

Diane Kruse, chief executive officer for consultant NEO Connect, told the board that the broadband initiative is on pace to meet several broadband goals. These include providing service for roughly 4,000 homes in Garfield County that had no internet access and facilitating investment to increase competition in the area at extremely robust service levels with broadband fiber to the home.

“We recommended some good policies that the county, as well as the cities and towns, adopted,” she said. “We suggested a public-private partnership to work with internet service providers (ISPs) and to potentially target grant funding.”

Another goal is to improve “middle-mile” infrastructure between the communities to bolster the “internet supply.” In 2022 and ’23, utilizing Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grants, Garfield County partnered with Region 10 to establish carrier neutral locations (CNLs) along Interstate 70 to help expand the middle-mile infrastructure. Region 10 leverages resources to help provide affordable, high-speed internet service to Western Slope communities.

“All of that work has laid an excellent foundation for what is happening this year,” Kruse said. “The county can be a facilitator to pursue grant funding (not as an applicant) for really robust gigabit-enabled broadband services for those 4,000 homes that have no service today, and also for a potential partnership for cities and towns to improve their broadband services within their communities.”

The board’s policy directives and project goals include continued partnership with Region 10 and local communities to implement service throughout the Colorado River Valley and to encourage ISPs to provide service to non-served customers throughout the region in phase III of the project.

Phase II nearly complete
Phase I of the project saw CNL facilities (secure data centers) built in Glenwood Springs and Rifle. Phase II expanded that infrastructure to include construction of CNLs in New Castle, Silt, and Parachute, and establishing access to large internet hubs in Denver and Salt Lake City. All locations are being connected to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) fiber lines under Interstate 70, and the work is slated for completion this summer.

“This allows very robust, abundant broadband,” Kruse said. “We’re talking about terabit capacity for these facilities, and it is something that the ISPs can use to offer services to end users within the county. … It is also affordable; having access to internet is often the largest expense an ISP has on their profit and loss (P&L) statement. With our partnership to Region 10, we’re lowering that barrier to entry and lowering that very expensive cost, making it affordable for them to serve the communities.”

The upcoming third phase of the project comprises the construction of “last mile” service that would reach customers who live outside of current service areas, also known as fiber to the home. Initially, it was estimated to cost $15 million to establish middle-mile connectivity to the CNLs along I-70, but final costs were a fraction of that amount.

“Garfield County, through the grant and through being able to access existing fiber, was able to establish this very robust infrastructure at very little cost,” Kruse said. “You didn’t have to spend $15 million to secure this access. It was a little over a $1 million investment, with the grant, to establish these locations and to access this infrastructure.

“Region 10 will be operating this network, and what you’ve done here is a really important primary goal of the broadband roadmap, which is to secure robust infrastructure along the I-70 corridor,” she added.

Kruse applauded Garfield County’s leadership in negotiating with CDOT to realize fiber connections that also benefit other communities throughout the corridor and the state.

“Thank you for your efforts, because they not only improve services for Garfield County, but the leadership role you played impacts everybody within the state,” she said.

The federal Broadband Equity Access Deployment (BEAD) program is providing $42.5 billion to improve internet service across the country, and $826 million is allocated to the state of Colorado. These BEAD funds are designed to help connect households with no service, and five ISPs are in discussions with NEO Connect to potentially provide service to these households.

County’s work will have significant return on investment
Kruse noted that the county is providing work in facilitating the project, and that the ISPs are required to provide matching funds for any grant funding used in the network build.

“With all of the programs, there’s a 25 percent match,” she said. “This is very capital intensive, and it’s anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 per home to build fiber to that location. This would never work in a rural area like Garfield County where there’s low-population density and it’s very expensive to build. It wouldn’t happen without a subsidy There is a return in that they get broadband, and they didn’t have to pay $10,000 (to connect to their home).”

Kruse added that fostering competition and providing the groundwork for gigabit internet is a great benefit for the citizens.

Broadband infrastructure is critical to improving our communities in areas such as education, healthcare, and economic development, to name a few. The county’s work provides opportunities in areas where they don’t currently exist. This folds directly into the county’s economic development portfolio by providing superior broadband access to existing and new business development opportunities.

The county’s investment and leadership provide significant opportunities for businesses that choose to locate and develop in the area, allowing Garfield County to compete at a much greater level over locations where that level of broadband service does not exist.