EAGLE-Net suspension lifted, paving way for new broadband access in Moffat and Routt counties

Moffat County, Steamboat Springs slated for broadband infrastructure

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“I am very pleased that EAGLE-Net will have the opportunity to move forward and connect schools around the state. This also provides Moffat County with the opportunity to leverage this open access infrastructure, which is important to continue growing our broadband capacity.”

Audrey Danner, interim director of the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership.

— High-speed broadband Internet service could be on its way to school districts in Moffat and Routt counties after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Tuesday that it lifted its stop construction order against the maligned EAGLE-Net Alliance.

EAGLE-Net previously recei­ved a $100.6 million grant in coordination with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to identify and provide “middle mile” broadband Internet infrastructure to more than 170 Colorado school districts.

But the alliance was ordered to stop its work in December 2012 when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration discovered EAGLE-Net had modified its implementation plan, which also brought into question the applicability of EAGLE-Net’s previously approved environmental assessment.

That changed this week.

“NTIA is lifting EAGLE-Net’s suspension, which will allow the organization to take advantage of the spring construction season and focus on helping western Colorado school districts get access to high capacity broadband,” said Anthony Wilhelm, NTIA’s associate administrator and head of its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. “NTIA has been working closely with EAGLE-Net over the past few months to address the environmental requirements needed to get the project back on track, and it has met those requirements.”

Lifting the suspension means EAGLE-Net can begin broadband infrastructure construction at the last 29 of the 170 school districts identified in the grant.

NTIA officials said they think EAGLE-Net can complete construction on 28 of those 29 districts before the grant’s original sunset date of August. The Moffat County, Steamboat Springs, South Routt and Hayden school districts are among those slated for construction this spring.

Infrastructure for the Silverton Public School District will be started in 2013 but likely will not be completed until next year, NTIA officials said. EAGLE-Net is expected to file for at least a one-year grant extension to complete construction in Silverton.

Although it is not yet clear when broadband cable will be “lit” in Moffat County, Audrey Danner, interim director of the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, said she was excited to hear the EAGLE-Net project would be resuming.

Danner was a member of regional and state broadband implementation teams and a champion for rural broadband while serving as a Moffat County commissioner.

“I am very pleased that EAGLE-Net will have the opportunity to move forward and connect schools around the state,” Danner said. “This also provides Moffat County with the opportunity to leverage this open access infrastructure, which is important to continue growing our broadband capacity.”

An open access network would allow “last mile providers” to piggyback off EAGLE-Net’s infrastructure, thus expanding access to rural broadband to local homes and businesses.

NTIA also announced that the EAGLE-Net project, estimated to cost $134 million, is short about $10 million to $15 million in matching funds as a result of the suspension.

If the project is to be completed next year, EAGLE-Net will need to find an investor, NTIA officials said.

Joe Moylan can be reached at 970-875-1794 or jmoylan@CraigDailyPress.com

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