Communities banding together for better, faster regional broadband internet | VailDaily.com

Communities banding together for better, faster regional broadband internet

In this image form Mammoth Networks, THOR's contracted operator, green circles are first phase participants, while yellow triangles represent possible later THOR adopters.
Special to the Daily

For more about THOR

For more information about the THOR broadband project, contact Nate Walowitz, with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, at nwalowitz@nwccog.org.

EAGLE — Local governments around the region want to buy better broadband and are pooling their resources to do it.

It’s called Project THOR, the brainchild of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. It’s designed to deliver faster internet at lower costs around the region.

“It’s not a public utility, but it is a public need,” Jon Stavney, the council’s executive director said.

Project THOR has two main goals:

1. To make broadband better and faster across Northwest Colorado’s rural areas.

2. To improve reliability of the regional broadband network, which is currently prone to mass failures when a fiber line goes down in a single place.

“I was in construction for 15 years. One guy with a backhoe could cut off multiple communities,” Stavney said.

To prevent that, a regional broadband system needs to be able to reroute itself so keeps operating. That used to be called redundancy. In the latest parlance, redundancy is now called “resilience.”

Broadband wasn’t high on anyone’s list five years ago. Now it’s the lifeblood for most modern businesses.

“We’re not becoming a society that needs less broadband,” Stavney said.

State’s in for $1 million-plus

Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs is kicking in $1 million in startup funding. That money will reduce participating jurisdictions’ by 50 percent, Stavney said.

Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is also asking the state to help build 178 miles of fiber optic cable through the region. That would drop participants’ cost by another 10 percent, Stavney said.

The goal is to make the Project THOR network available by Sept. 1, Stavney said.

“We’ve been talking about it for more than five years. We’ve been intensely working on it for a year and a half. We’re going to make 2019 the year it happens,” Stavney said.

More fiber optic cable could also improve cell reception around the region, since cell towers often connect to fiber lines.

Northwest Colorado Council of Governments has been down similar roads before. Four decades ago they were trying to get 911 service into the region.

“Eventually, it will be like most other services. It will just be there and you won’t have to think about it,” Stavney said.

What is THOR?

THOR is a network loop connecting hosts across Northwest Colorado with 100 gigabit service. The project touches 20 percent of Colorado’s landmass, and 233,000 citizens. That’s 23 percent of Colorado’s non-Front Range population.

Joining would cost different amounts in different counties and communities, since some would have to build infrastructure. For example, it would cost Clear Creek County more than $400,000 to get into the public broadband business and be able to control their own destiny.

“Cutting that by 50 percent is real money,” Stavney said.

Other participating communities — Vail, Glenwood Springs, Meeker, Steamboat Springs and Aspen/Pitkin County — are already deep into the internet business and have that infrastructure largely built. Participating in THOR would provide resilience, lower costs and increase their bandwidth, Stavney said.

“THOR is an easy plug-in for those communities that have that local infrastructure and are already in the business,” Stavney said.

Eagle County entities are wary about diving in. Eagle County, Eagle and Gypsum landed $19,000 in state funding for a study covering broadband needs in the western Eagle River Valley, and whether THOR would meet those needs.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.




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