Engineering and design of broadband network gets go ahead from Craig, Moffat County
April 3, 2018
CRAIG — Construction plans could soon be on the table for the Moffat County Broadband Initiative.
Last week, the Craig City Council and the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners put up $12,500 each. These funds will pay for the first phase of the project to be completed by Mammoth Networks, which will determine the construction costs of building an open-access network in Craig.
The goal of the project is to bring more affordable network access to internet service providers, which will then, hopefully, pass on savings to consumers.
"It's expensive to build here, so there's not a very good business case to build fiber to every home and to get the service that people need," said Michelle Perry Balleck, executive director of the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership.
"Municipalities come in and say, ‘Listen, we will fund, or we will get grant funds, to build the network,' and then, it's already here. Then, it's a lot more affordable to get access to it," she said. Perry Balleck added that placing this infrastructure could make it economically viable for more internet service providers to serve rural population centers.
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This open-access network will allow internet service providers to plug into a city-owned, high-speed network at a set rate. Currently, companies negotiate with other companies to purchase access to the network through fiber optics cables.
In Mammoth's plan, all the fiber cables will converge in one place, called a Meet Me Center. As long as the network isn't over-burdened, there is no limit to the number of internet service providers allowed to plug-in to the Meet Me Center.
"The more providers that are offering internet services for business and individuals, the cheaper it's going to be," Perry Balleck said. "We want to make it open access, in that we allow as many entities to come onto this — per the contracted rate that we've established — as possible, without overloading the system."
The first step in the process is establishing the cost of construction.
In the first phase, Mammoth will create construction plans to build a reliable loop of high-speed
internet to the entire county. This includes working with the companies who own fiber already in the ground to try to connect the county using infrastructure already in place, as well as determining where to place new fiber and wireless towers.
In Craig, Mammoth will design a network of fiber connecting anchor institutions, such as government, public safety, health care and educational facilities. The company will also create a "financial model" for the project; essentially, a business plan that ensures the project will be financially sustainable for Mammoth and the city of Craig.
"This is going to be the real foundation to bring broadband into the community where we need to be," said Craig Mayor John Ponikvar.
The process, expected to take 90 days, will provide an estimate of the cost of construction within 95 percent certainty.
"Everyone has a stake in the game," Craig City Councilman Derek Duran said. While Mammoth will benefit from the city's business, the city, county and community institutions will also benefit from the connection, he added.
The second phase of the project will be the construction of additional fiber lines and wireless towers.
Perry Balleck primarily wants to use state and federal funds to pay for phase two. She hopes that having local buy-in early on will make the project more competitive for grant funding. The amount of funding needed will be determined once the results of phase one are complete.
The local project fits in with Project THOR, the Northwest Colorado Council of Government's larger, regional broadband project that has also contracted work with Mammoth.
Project THOR seeks to build up the infrastructure between Denver — where the network is generated — to internet service providers and anchor institutions on the Western Slope
and in mountain communities. This plan is intended to enhance the redundancy of the network by building a loop. That way, if a line is cut between Craig and Denver, the network can simply reverse course, coming up through Meeker, instead.
It also seeks to improve affordability by connecting to Meet Me Centers in municipalities.
"Project THOR will make sure that the network we build for Moffat County connects to the rest of the world, essentially," Perry Balleck said.
Craig will play a critical role in Project THOR, simply because it is the major population center between Steamboat Springs and Meeker.
"We're in a really good spot, between Steamboat and Meeker, where people need to make their connections," Ponikvar said.
Mammoth's work on Project THOR, as well as the company's experience in the area, made members of the Broadband Initiative's executive committee, including Perry Balleck and Duran, excited to work with the company.