Eagle opts into broadband project | VailDaily.com

Eagle opts into broadband project

In a split vote, town board joins regional fiber optic cable project

In a 4-3 vote, Eagle's town board approved spending $308,000 to opt into a regional fiber optic cable network being built by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. For now, the network will not connect to homes and businesses. Some of the cost could be offset by signing up other entities around the Eagle area.
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So what's THOR?

THOR would be like an internet version of a high-speed train track around northwest Colorado.

The metaphorical stations would be at locations along the route.

Right now, nine communities have signed letters of intent to be part of the system. As many as 12 communities might sign on, said Mammoth’s Evan Biagi.

Eagle’s center would be the Eagle Town Hall.

In exchange for agreeing to host a center, communities get the bandwidth that they may not have.

They also get what’s called “resiliency,” a backup system in case their main system goes down. A system failure can happen with something as simple as a backhoe operator cutting the cable.

Roughly $1 million of the $2.5 million total pricetag is hardware and startup costs. Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs came up with a $1 million grant to cover part of that. The rest will come from towns and other entities that join the co-op. If more entities join the costs go down; if fewer join the costs go up.

Eagle’s share of the startup costs is $308,909.

Right now, the town of Eagle pays CenturyLink $6,456 a month for phones and internet service.

THOR would cost Eagle $7,900 a month, or $1,444 more than the town pays CenturyLink.

Eagle hopes to offset some of that cost by signing up other entities, such as other governments, and eventually homes and businesses.

The THOR network loop would run 178 miles through Eagle County to Glenwood Springs, up through Meeker, Craig and Steamboat Springs.

THOR is a project of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. The NWCCOG contracted with Mammoth, a Gillette, Wyoming firm, to build it.

THOR is not an acronym. It’s just a name someone thought of, and it stuck.

Sources: Mammoth Networks, town of Eagle, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

EAGLE — Eagle will spend more than a quarter million dollars to bring fiber-optic cable into town.

In a 4-3 Town Board vote, Eagle became the ninth entity to join Project THOR, a “middle mile” broadband project coordinated by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

THOR will and will not

  • THOR will not provide fiber-optic broadband speed to homes and businesses. That’s “last mile” service.
  • THOR will create a 178-mile fiber-optic loop around northwest Colorado. It would tap into the fiber-optic cable that the Colorado Department of Transportation already installed along Interstate 70. That loop will reach up to 12 community centers around the region, according to Mammoth Networks, the Gillette, Wyoming, company that would build THOR under a contract with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

Jon Stavney, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments executive director, says it will cost $2.5 million to build the network infrastructure. A Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant will cover $1 million of that.

Eagle’s share is $308,909, at least for now. That cost will go down if more governments and entities join, Stavney said.

Cost savings

Costs will also drop — or at least be partially offset — if Eagle can connect other local entities. Eventually, homes and businesses in town could connect through local internet service providers.

Some Eagle town board members likened THOR to federal projects that provided electricity to rural areas, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Board members said they’ve been unsuccessful in convincing Comcast and Century Link to provide “middle mile” service to the town.

First, middle and last miles

In any utility system there are beginning miles, middle miles and last miles.

For the THOR broadband system, the “beginning mile” was CDOT running fiber-optic cable along I-70.

The “middle mile” brings it into a community center. In Eagle’s case this would be the town hall — ironically, about an actual mile from the fiber-optic cable CDOT laid along I-70 to the town hall.

The “last mile” takes it to homes and businesses. While THOR will push fiber-optic capability into towns around the region, homes and businesses won’t be able to connect to it right away.

“That’s up to the entity. This will create a market for a lot of hungry smaller internet service providers to create that last mile connection,” Stavney said.

Stavney said that while broadband service is not a public utility — like water, sewer and electricity — it often functions like one.

“In terms of its importance, it’s as important as a utility,” Stavney said. “Try doing business in the modern world without it.”

Eagle will be subsidizing more remote communities like Craig and Meeker — spending money it would not otherwise need to, Ken Bauer, sales director for Forethought and San Isabel Telecom said.

“It’s not that complicated. You don’t need Mammoth or anyone else to do this. We don’t need THOR as a middle mile provider,” Bauer said.

A pipeline for providers

THOR is not designed to compete with local internet service providers, but to allow them to tie into the system, Mammoth Network’s Evan Biagi said.

“This is not a last mile project,” he said. “It will not connect customers or businesses. That’s a local service provider.”

These sorts of networks already exist in urban areas. This would create a rural version of that in northwest Colorado, Biagi said.

Rural areas don’t have it because there are not enough potential customers to make it a paying proposition for most telecom companies.

Eagle voters, like voters across the county and state, approved a ballot measure that allows towns and other governments to do exactly this, Eagle Mayor Anne McKibbin said.

“It has never been represented by us that if we sign this tonight and we can flip a switch tomorrow and it will be there,” McKibbin said during Tuesday’s town board meeting.

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