Area counties partner for state grant

Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco counties apply for beanpole funds

Several groups are working to upgrade telecommunications in Northwest Colorado. Officials say the change is needed to conduct business, recruit new businesses to the area and increase the flow of information.

The Moffat County Board of Commissioners is working on the first phase of the project constructing a telecommunications backbone to run through Craig. But the project doesn't stop there. Once a telecommunications backbone is established, residents and businesses still face the often expensive task of getting lines from the backbone to homes or offices.

The city of Steamboat Springs in partnership with Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties and the towns within have applied for a grant that will fund a plan to connect communities to the fiber optic cable coming through Northwest Colorado. This community infrastructure networking plan will provide specific details on how a community can hook into a telecommunications network.

Seeing a need for improved rural telecommunications, the Colorado Legislature appropriated $5 million to help communities pay for telecommunications service. Of that money, $300,000 was set aside for technical assistance grants funds for community infrastructure networking plans. The Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) is in charge of administering the grant program.

The fund is referred to as the "beanpole fund."

"The beanpole act provided money for the implementation of telecommunications infrastructure projects across the state," Steamboat Springs Grant Analyst Winnie DelliQuadri said. "In order to be eligible for the big pot of money (the remaining $4.7 million), communities need to go through a planning process for technical needs."

The three-county project will cost $36,000, of which $30,000 is expected to be paid for through the grant. There is a $3,000 cash match expected and $3,000 of in-kind services have been pledged.

It has not been decided where the $3,000 cash match will come from, but DelliQuadri said she expects no trouble getting it from project participants which include Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, the cities of Steamboat Springs, Craig, Meeker, Rangely, Hayden and Oak Creek, Yampa Valley Partners and Yampa Valley Economic Development Council.

"These three counties have been working together on telecommunications," DelliQuadri said. "We realized we are small, rural communities and to get anything done in telecommunications we needed to make a unified approach."

The grant deadline was Friday. DelliQuadri is optimistic about the chances of being awarded the grant and expects the project to begin Nov. 15 and be completed by Feb. 15.

"I'm fairly confident we'll be able to leverage some funding," she said.

According to Jerry Smith, deputy director for DOLA, $30,000 was the suggested maximum amount for grant requests. At that cap, only 10 grants can be given statewide, but Smith said if more bonafide requests were submitted, there is funding possible from other resources. Smith said some requests were for less than the $30,000 suggested maximum.

Ten grant applications were received.

Smith anticipates a fairly quick turnover of the grant applications. Decisions should be made at a Nov. 3 advisory board meeting and letters should be mailed to grant applicants by Nov. 9.

The remaining $4.7 million of beanpole funds is also available in grants to pay for telecommunications service.

"They're used as an economic incentive for private sector expansions in telecommunications," said Colorado Rural Development Council representative Flo Raitano. The Colorado Rural Development Council was contracted by DOLA to set up the grant request process. "We don't pay for the cost of constructing the lines, but we will pay for service. There's a big difference. We're trying to benefit local communities without looking like we're subsidizing the private sector."

This is a one-shot opportunity for Colorado communities. The Legislature only provided funding for this fiscal year.

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