Cortez To Expand Open Access Network

A recent vote by the Cortez city council cleared the way for a major expansion in the city’s open access network. By committing $1 million in local funds, the city unlocked a matching $1 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which disperses revenues from federal mineral leases in the form of a variety of economic development grants around the state.

This $2 million infusion will enable Phase II of the city’s network plan to go forward next year, making connections newly available to 400 businesses along two major highways. This builds on the existing Phase I network, which is capable of offering connections to about 650 businesses along Main Street. About 250 businesses have already signed on in Phase I, good for nearly a 40% take rate. The city plans to add 27 miles of fiber in 2015. 

The $1 million in local matching funds that enabled the Department of Local Affairs grant are pledged from a combination of sources. The network's own reserve fund will contribute $250,000, while the remainder will come in the form of interdepartmental loans from the city's general fund ($250,000) and equipment fund ($500,000). 

The city does not offer its own services over its fiber, favoring an open access model that lets independent service providers compete using its infrastructure. The network currently has seven mostly local ISPs competing for customers. The long term plan, as described by City General Services Manager Rick Smith in a Broadband Bits podcast back in May, is to build a fiber to the home network throughout the city. Smith sounds pretty determined to make that happen:

“Just because we live here in rural Cortez, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have access to affordable broadband. It’s a necessity in today’s digital age.” 

“It would probably take more than $10 million to finish out the entire city,” Smith said. “That could take at least five years, but we have a roadmap. We have a plan.”

Cortez has taken a gradual approach towards developing its fiber infrastructure, beginning with an I-Net for local anchor institutions in 1999. Over time, the town of less than 9,000 residents has become a regional fiber optic hub, thanks to several grants from the state, partnerships with neighboring governments, and smart local investments. Cortez serves as the nexus for the western half of the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN), which connects public institutions in a five county region to backbone fiber. 

Cortez has also benefitted from good timing: it began leasing extra capacity on a few of its fiber optic lines to a handful of private companies in 2005. This allowed Cortez to be grandfathered in as an exemption to SB 152 which passed later that same year, meaning that unlike nearly all other Colorado municipalities, Cortez did not have to pass a referendum to use its fiber optic infrastructure to offer retail services.