Broadband network blueprint completed, next step securing funds for estimated $4.1 million project | CraigDailyPress.com

Broadband network blueprint completed, next step securing funds for estimated $4.1 million project

CRAIG — The city and county now have a network blueprint to develop broadband infrastructure in Moffat County.

The blueprint is a tactical plan with network designs. It is aligned with the community's strategic broadband plan and includes a financial model for costs and revenues and long-term sustainability, a timeline and information needed for grant applications, said Evan Biagi, vice president of Colorado operations for Mammoth Networks, who has been hired as network operator.

Mammoth estimates construction of the network would cost about $4.1 million and about another $290,000 annually to operate.

The Moffat County Broadband Initiative — a joint effort of several local community anchor institutions, led by the city of Craig, Moffat County and the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership — plans to fund construction through a blend of state and federal grants, as well monthly service fees from anchor institutions — the city, county, hospital, college and school district.

"We intend to apply for grants from Colorado Department of Local Affairs and U.S. Economic Development Administration, with local match dollars to fund the construction phase," said Michelle Perry, executive director of CMEDP. "I am pleased to see that we have found a way to make the MCBI network cash flow year over year with a one-time local contribution, and if we are able to secure grant dollars for the initial construction, we could have the local network ready to launch in a year's time."

The network will use a combination of existing and new fiber and microwave technology to create data infrastructure within and between anchor institutions in Craig, Hamilton, Maybell and Dinosaur and will connect, through a Craig-based "Meet Me Center," to project THOR — a regional middle-mile backhaul network the countywide network will utilize for a redundant, high-speed, affordable connection to the rest of the world.

A schematic depicting the basic infrastructure in the construction of a municipally owned broadband network for Moffat County.
A schematic depicting Project THOR that would provide “middle mile” connectivity to connect the Moffat County network to the rest of the internet.

"This allows us to create a network that directly connects anchor institutions and allows internet service providers to tap into the infrastructure to serve our communities' businesses and residents," Perry said.

This model minimizes costs to the public, doesn't force competition between public entities and private sector ISPs and leverages regional buying power to "get us closer to Denver pricing," said Jon Stavney, executive director of Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, who presented on project THOR.

Biagi and Perry led a presentation of the blueprint documents at a workshop with the Craig City Council and the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, June 10.

"I am beyond satisfied with the work that Mammoth Networks has completed in a short amount of time. We now have a detailed network design and coordinating finance model for the initial capital costs and ongoing operating expenses that we can use to apply for state and federal funds," Perry said.

The financial model will see the city, county and some of the other anchor institutions initially pay more in monthly internet fees. However, some of those costs will be offset by savings gained by using and maintaining one, instead of multiple, systems, as well as with fees paid by ISPs wanting to use the municipally owned network.

"For my office and my team, everything is connected to the outside world. … If we lose connectivity and don't have a rollover, we are dark, and it's a huge deal for us," said Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume when council members asked for his opinion of the blueprint.

Council voted to accept the work at its regular meeting.

"I think that this is the single most important thing that we could do for our community," said Mayor John Ponikvar.

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Stavney asked for, and the council approved, a letter of intent to participate in the regional middle-mile network — Project THOR — to feed the local network.

The Phase 1 contract with Visionary Communications, dba Mammoth Networks, was executed on March 29. The city of Craig and Moffat County each contributed half of the expense of the $25,000 contract.

In addition, the city and county, Memorial Regional Health, Colorado Northwestern Community College, Moffat County School District and Moffat County Local Marketing District have made a three-year commitment in contributing money to CMEDP to complete the administrative work for the network.

"It benefits the schools through learning tools and resources like our i-Pad initiative. We send kids out to a community that doesn't have the same capabilities as in the schools," said Moffat County School District Superintendent David Ulrich. He added broadband needs to be thought of as a utility that is expected if the community wants to attract young families and businesses.

Once construction funds are secured, the city of Craig will be the network owner and fiscal agent for the project, which will run as an enterprise fund. Mammoth Networks will serve as the network operator, negotiating contracts and overseeing the development, maintenance and operations of the project.

"The support of the community anchors institutions and their purchase of services from the network will be critical to MCBI's long-term success. The broadband project is critical infrastructure for Moffat County's growth. This blueprint for development is a major step forward for our community's economic future," Perry said.

Moffat County Broadband Initiative documents can be found at ci.craig.co.us/government/broadband. For more information on the Moffat County Broadband Initiative, contact Perry at 620-4370 or director@cmedp.com.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Project Timeline

July 10 – Craig City Council workshop presentation with Mammoth Networks regarding MCBI and Project THOR. Voting approvals to be completed during the regular meeting on the same day.

July 17 – Moffat County Local Marketing District voting approvals to be completed.

July 24 – Voting approvals at Moffat County Commission and Craig City Council meetings.

August 1 – Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant deadline.

End of August – U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) draft grant proposal submitted for review and feedback.

Mid-September – EDA grant proposal submitted. End of October – EDA grant application submitted.

First week of November – DOLA grant hearings.

Last week of November – DOLA grant decision and letter of intent to fund (if successful).

First/second week of December – EDA grant decision pending letter of intent from DOLA for match funds.

January/February – Executed contracts with DOLA and EDA.

Mid-February – Request for Proposals (RFP) for construction.

Mid-March – Decision on construction vendor(s). May – Construction begins.

July – Construction complete, ready for services. Source: Mammoth Networks