Red Cliff, Eagle River Valley’s oldest town, now has broadband speed internet
RED CLIFF — Broadband speed internet has finally reached Red Cliff, a town of less than 400, with the first successful tests completed this week.
On Tuesday, Dec. 12, the town’s community center beamed a broadband-speed Wi-Fi signal through its offices, with Steve Cain from iKnowtech connecting the router and Eric Hager with Forethought.net celebrating the signal as it reached his phone. Forethought.net is Red Cliff’s internet service provider, and early speed tests were downloading files at a speed of 60 to 80 megabites per second.
Hager said with Red Cliff now connected, a major weight has been lifted off his shoulders.
“The history here goes back two or three years,” Hager told the Vail Daily in a Facebook Live interview from the Red Cliff town hall. “Red Cliff is old and has no direct fiber coming into the town, and the only service they have is very old telephone lines, that gives very limited service, so trying to find a way to bring them to high speed internet really requires some sort of fiber access.”
That fiber-optic cable access came from the Ski Cooper area in the San Isabel National Forest and required permits. The tower that is now receiving the signal from the San Isabel National Forest, being a communications tower, also needed to adhere to the standards set forth in the National Environmental Protection Act, adding months to the process. Once those hurdles were cleared, Red Cliff was able to erect its tower and receive the signal from the tower at Ski Cooper, which has fiber-optic cable running to it.
MOST OF THE DECADE
The process took years, however, as town manager Barb Smith pointed out on Tuesday. Red Cliff has been seeking broadband speed internet since about 2010, so the waiting was not anything more than the town’s residents have already encountered.
“For years, we went to meetings three or four times a year in Denver,” Smith said. “At that time, it was too expensive to put it in, and there was not enough money to make it be sensible.”
Former Mayor Scott Burgess is credited with much of the vision in seeing through a solution.
Thinking back to those meetings, “I guess I wasn’t exactly civil,” Burgess said. “I made them a financial case for how it could be done and they said it’s just not going to happen. But in the back of the room was this guy named Bill (Jones) … he came up to me during the break and said I think we could bring that to Red Cliff.”
Jones, who could not be reached for comment, came up with the plan to beam in the signal, Burgess said.
“Bill had actually set up a test, he put a signal at Ski Cooper and went up on the hillside (in Red Cliff) roughly where the tower is now, and we proved the concept,” Burgess said. “One night in Mango’s, we opened a couple of laptops and used that signal to stream some Netflix.”
The company owned by Jones, High Country Internet, was acquired by Forethought.net, who will now begin the process of installing receivers on the outsides of homes in Red Cliff so residents can receive the same strength signal that was coming into town hall on Tuesday.
‘COULDN’T BELIEVE IT’
A grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, as well as a lot of time an effort from the Colorado Northwest Council of Governments, was how the project was funded, in addition to the money put forth through Red Cliff’s general fund.
Nate Walowitz, the regional broadband coordinator for the council of governments, said the Colorado Northwest Council of Governments had contributed between $30,000 and $40,000 in man hours on the effort.
“The technical assistance was a part of the dues that Red Cliff paid in to the Northwest COG,” Walowitz said.
Aside from that, however, “It was a feel-good project, all around,” Walowitz added.
The first home to have a high speed internet receiver installed in Red Cliff belongs to Mayor Anuschka Bales, who Burgess said carried on the effort perfectly after he left his position as mayor.
After getting broadband speed internet in her home on Monday, Dec. 11, one of the first things Bales did was make a video call to former town board member Duane Nelson, a longtime supporter of internet in Red Cliff.
“He couldn’t believe it,” she said.