Broadband Communities

NOV-DEC 2016

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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16 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016 COMMUNITY BROADBAND Rio Blanco County Stays Relevant With Broadband The three-tier municipal broadband model in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, is unusual, as is the county's goal of "maintaining relevancy" and its support for community anchor institutions. By Masha Zager / Broadband Communities C olorado became a hotbed of community broadband activity several years ago when dozens of cities and counties began voting to override restrictive state legislation and take control of their broadband destinies. In November 2016 alone, 26 localities held broadband referenda; all 26 referenda passed, most of them by wide margins. Rio Blanco County, a rural county in northwestern Colorado with a population of less than 7,000, held an override vote in 2014 and is now connecting customers to Rio Blanco Broadband, a network that will deliver fiber or wireless broadband access to nearly all premises. However, its story began much earlier, in 1999, when the school district in Meeker, the county seat, linked its buildings with fiber. Once the school network was up and running, the town of Meeker, the local library and the county hospital all requested to use the school district's dark fiber – and the Meeker Metropolitan Area Network (Meeker MAN) was born. "It ran for a decade and a half, and we had an abnormal amount of IT cooperation," says Blake Mobley, who was the IT director of the school district during that period. In 2014, when the county decided to implement a modern broadband system, it recruited Mobley to be the county IT director because of his experience with the Meeker MAN. "It was the perfect storm," Mobley says. "ere was grassroots desire for broadband, the county commissioners were on board, the county had money to proceed and I had some experience with broadband." e county set a goal of obtaining the fastest internet access it could for as many people as it could and offering it at Google-type pricing ($70 for gigabit service). Formulating the policy goal in this way – rather than setting goals in terms of economic development or return on investment – was the first unique aspect of the project. Mobley explains, "One way a project can fail is if you set a publicly stated goal, such as return on investment, the number of years it takes to get your money back or a specific take rate. As soon as you make a public statement like that, you can be held up as an example of failure. So we chose a different approach: Our goal was to build a modern infrastructure so the community would have an option. … We had to look at this as a purchase, not an investment." e county's website explains that broadband isn't about "getting ahead as a community" as much as "maintaining relevancy as a community." GETTING STARTED e county published a broadband plan in June 2014 calling for fiber to the home in the two towns of Meeker and Rangely and wireless broadband (at least in the short term) for the remaining one-third of county residents who

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