New fiber optic cable counted on to usher in new era in connectivity for local institutions | SteamboatToday.com

New fiber optic cable counted on to usher in new era in connectivity for local institutions

— Proponents of improving broadband connectivity in the region are celebrating the awarding of a $748,000 matching grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs that is expected to lead to the construction this year of 9 miles of fiber optic trunk line between east and west Steamboat.

The new cable is being counted on to build upon the potential of a carrier-neutral location, which was created in 2014 in downtown Steamboat, and to provide lateral connections for more affordable and redundant broadband service for local institutions, according to Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan.

The new fiber optic line, and laterals shooting off it, will serve the county's public safety complex, Yampa Valley Electric Association headquarters and its substation, the city of Steamboat Springs Mountain Fire Station, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Colorado Mountain College and the Steamboat Springs School District. Those institutions will provide 100 percent matching funds for the DOLA grant. The agreement will be formalized this month, in time for a request for proposals to go out for construction to take place in 2016.

In the future, splice points designed into the new fiber optic cable could provide the adaptability to allow private providers to deliver competitive and redundant services to residential and business customers here, Sullivan said.

Already the city, county, school district and YVEA are enjoying the ability to purchase more affordable broadband service after participating in Northwest Colorado Broadband's effort, which was spearheaded by the Steamboat Spring Chamber Resort Association to build the carrier-neutral location at a downtown school district building. That piece of telecommunications infrastructure allowed them to aggregate their demand and negotiate a tenfold savings.

A carrier-neutral location is a space owned by a disinterested third party where broadband providers can install equipment to connect to one another. In the case of the new carrier-neutral location in the school district's building, the space allowed Northwest Colorado Broadband to connect to a middle-mile broadband provider — Mammoth Networks.

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Sullivan said this week the local community's ability to leverage grant monies with in-kind contributions by project partners, which include engineering, existing conduit, overhead electric pole attachments and the previous investment in the carrier-neutral location, helped land the new DOLA grant.

"By collaborating, participating entities gain far more than they could have achieved on their own," Sullivan said.

The ability to tackle this summer's construction project was also enabled by local voters' willingness in November 2015 to opt out of a state law that prevented local governments from becoming involved in developing telecommunications infrastructure.

A county-wide broadband plan funded by DOLA and NCB partners is scheduled for completion early this year. A consultant will identify strategies for filling gaps in broadband service, including potential public-private partnerships.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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