Earlier this month, voters in several Colorado communities decided to approve ballot measures to reclaim local telecommunications authority. One of those places, Rio Blanco County in the northwest corner of the state, has already committed funds to develop infrastructure.
According to a recent article in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the county considers the issue so critical, it will dedicate $2 million in federal mineral lease revenues, and $5 million from the general fund to improve connectivity. County leaders say they will also seek funds from the Department of Local Affairs.
Rio Blanco County is planning an open access model. From the article:
[County Commissioner Shawn] Bolton said the county won’t provide broadband service itself, but instead will install infrastructure such as fiber lines.
“By providing infrastructure, then we can get the service providers to come here and provide the service at a competitive rate,” he said.
In March, the County, the County Seat of Meeker, several local school districts, and a list of other partnering entities, filed a Rural Broadband Expression of Interest [PDF] with the FCC. In their documentation, they noted that the private and public entities in the region had been working together to develop better connectivity since 2001. They named themselves the Western Colorado IT Cooperative (WCITC).
According to the Expression of Interest, fiber resources are now in place that connect a limited number of public facilities. The County Courthouse, the Rio Blanco County Road and Bridge, the Town of Meeker, its pubic library, and its schools all connect via the metropolitan area network (MAN). A medical center, also connects to the existing fiber network.
Population density is low in Rio Blanco County at approximately 2 people per square mile. Seventy-five percent of the county's 3,200 square miles is federally owned land. Most residents live in either Meeker or Rangley.
Community leaders in Rio Blanco County recognize that their geography and limited population will not inspire incumbents to build to serve local residents or businesses. They also realize they will need to take matters into their own hands. From the article:
“When it comes to putting broadband in our county, it’s not a good business model for anybody,” said County Commissioner Shawn Bolton.