SNOWMASS VILLAGE --Snowmass Village will join in a countywide effort to improve cellular and broadband service in the area.
The Aspen Skiing Co., Pitkin County, Snowmass Village, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and U.S. Forest Service have formed a coalition to identify coverage holes in the upper Roaring Fork Valley and to find a contractor to build towers in sites ideal for expanding coverage. The town joined after a presentation by the other members at the Jan. 7 council meeting.
Pitkin County began a study of coverage holes this fall, and the Roaring Fork Broadband Coalition has sent those findings to infrastructure providers. It expects to receive proposals from them within in a week.
Kevin Ward, of Aspen Strategy Center, the consultant on the project, said providers will build the needed infrastructure for free because they receive their profits from cellphone and wireless companies paying rent to use their towers. Therefore, the providers need a desirable area for companies to rent, so the county or Skico on their own wouldn't be as marketable.
"So what were trying to do is present one face that the vendors can come to," he added in explanation of the reason for a coalition. "They're going to send the money were going to say yes you can build here. ... What we need to do is keep presenting that united front."
The builders also manage the towers once they're completed, Ward said.
Assistant County Manager Phylis Mattice said the county hopes to come up with a cell tower master plan that would also be encouraging to potential vendors. The county doesn't benefit financially from the expansion, Mattice said.
"What we want is broadband and cell coverage in the county," Mattice said. "And then as a group we'll look at those pieces."
The Town Council expressed a desire to work with the coalition. Mayor Bill Boineau pointed out that the lack of coverage is a common complaint in the Village, especially from visitors and part-time residents. The town's comprehensive plan also includes goals to improve cellular and wireless coverage, while "mitigating visual impacts and impacts to environmentally sensitive areas."
Zoning will be an important part of the process, Mattice said. Pitkin County already has some sites available for broadband expansion, and the coalition will continue to identify more.
Paul Major, Skico director of information systems, said the coalition wants to make it possible for building to start "as soon as the snow melts."