Collaboration allows wireless network to take shape |

Collaboration allows wireless network to take shape

A recently awarded state grant worth more than $1 million will allow Pitkin and Garfield counties to build one wireless internet network that will reach more rural residents than two independently operated networks, an official said Tuesday.

“This is a great effort valleywide,” said Patti Clapper, chair of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners. “It just makes such great sense to all the people we serve.”

Pitkin County commissioners heard about the grant Tuesday during a joint meeting in Aspen with their colleagues on the Garfield Board of County Commissioners.

“This is fabulous,” said Garfield County Commissioner Tom Janovsky.

The $1.06 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs was awarded earlier this month. Both counties had submitted separate grants to the department to build wireless broadband networks, then were able to consolidate their applications into one, which the state awarded.

The collaboration will allow the counties to reach a combined total of 73 percent of residents in both counties as opposed to 60 percent coverage that would have occurred with individually operated county networks, said Kara Silbernagel, Pitkin County management analyst. The network also will serve parts of Eagle and Gunnison counties because they are close to under-served rural areas of Pitkin County, she said.

“That really highlights the collaboration,” Silbernagel said. “This is really helping us get to rural drainage areas that are hardest to reach.”

The collaboration will save the two counties $315,000, she said. In addition, it will save the counties from competing with each other for customers in overlapping areas, said Kevin Batchelder, Garfield County manager.

The contract with the state for the grant will be finalized in September or October, Silbernagel said. The network will then be designed this winter, with some area residents possibly able to hook into the network by spring, she said.

After the main towers — on Sunlight Mountain and Lookout Mountain — are built, officials will concentrate on constructing “tentacles” in harder-to-reach areas, Silbernagel said. The contract with the state will run through 2020.

Meanwhile, the two counties will be able to collect revenue from the network that will go toward maintenance and future construction, she said. After 2020, the counties will see what areas still need coverage and use that revenue to construct towers to extend services to those areas, Silbernagel said.

“I would say this is the first collaboration in the state spread across counties,” she said.

Janovsky suggested establishing a “collaborative authority” to supervise the network and oversee revenue and future infrastructure construction.

Both counties selected the same internet service provider after separate request-for-proposal processes, said Jon Peacock, Pitkin County manager.

The latest grant is the second broadband grant from the Department of Local Affairs awarded to Pitkin County in the past two years.

The first $900,000 grant — which was matched by another $900,000 from the county — was awarded in December 2016 and has gone toward building wireless towers at Sunlight Mountain, Elephant Mountain above Redstone in the Crystal River Valley, and a third above Ruedi Reservoir in the Fryingpan River Valley.

The Elephant Mountain tower was finished Saturday, while the tower above Ruedi is still in the permitting process, Silbernagel said. The Sunlight Mountain tower is weeks away from being finished, she said.

The latest grant will allow the counties to continue building that network, she said.

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