Avon, Colorado Will Join ‘Project Thor’ Middle Mile Coalition

Avon, Colorado will soon be joining Project THOR, an open access middle mile fiber alliance of 14 communities spearheaded by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG).

The network, which feeds into NWCCOG’s Point of Presence in Denver, has dramatically benefited state anchor institutions and boosted network reliability across large swaths of Northwest Colorado. 

We detailed Project Thor and talked with NWCCOG Executive Director Jon Stavney in episode 406 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. “The image of the hammer and breaking down roadblocks and breaking down barriers really worked,” NWCCOG officials told the Colorado Sun when asked about the project being named after the Norse god of thunder.

A recent broadband assessment (page 50) of Avon conducted by an outside consultant found that Avon locals were annoyed by limited broadband competition, high prices, and a lack of reliability from current private sector broadband offerings. The survey also found locals would be supportive of a city-run broadband initiative if it meant lower prices and faster service. 

“We believe the installation of a fiber optic network to enable improved broadband service is appropriate and beneficial in Avon and deployment should commence in the near term so that Avon does not fall too far behind peer communities,” the report found. 

In response, Avon – a town of about 6,000 residents nestled in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains along the Eagle River – considered three routes: tasking the local utility with building its own publicly-owned fiber network; joining Project Thor under a hybrid public-private partnership (PPP) where they sold access to governments, schools and hospitals and local ISPs; or joining Project Thor under a pure PPP where they only sold access to local ISPs.

The city of Avon chose the latter option, hoping that partnering with the middle mile network could help drive down costs, increase competition, and boost fiber availability. City leaders say they lacked the finances or staff to tackle a larger community broadband initiative without significant outside help.

Consultants found that Avon’s first-year cost to join Project Thor would run somewhere between $205,000 and $240,000 – $35,000 for hardware, $85,000 to $120,000 to connect fiber from CDOT to the Public Safety Facility, and an annual subscription cost of $85,000 for 10 Gigabit committed service a year. 

Project Thor was founded in 2018 and comprises over 400 miles of existing publicly and privately owned fiber linking Colorado communities to existing infrastructure. The open access middle mile network is funded, in part, by $1.25 million dollars in Colorado Department of Local Affairs grants.

While efforts like Project Thor don’t qualify for last mile Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grants, such projects are poised to get at least some limited help from the NTIA’s $1 billion middle-mile grant program, the money from which is expected to flow well ahead of BEAD grants. 

Avon is one of a growing roster of Colorado towns where residents voted to opt out of SB 152, a restrictive 2005 state law lobbied for by regional telecom monopolies that greatly restricted community broadband initiatives. The opt-out language is unique for such bills, and Avon residents voted to exempt their town from the requirements back in 2017

“In my opinion, this is not the future, it’s right now,” Avon Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes told Vail Daily. “We’re not the guinea pig. Many times we do take the lead on things, but I do think in this situation, other people have done the work and I don’t see how we can not move forward without trying to do this.”

Inline map of Project THOR courtesy of Project THOR

Inline image of Avon town center courtesy of Flickr user Edsel Little, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Inline map of Avon, CO courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)