Red Cliff to start beaming broadband soon; USFS approval coming this week

Red Cliff built an 80-foot communications tower, and with Forest Service approval expected Wednesday or Thursday, the town could have broadband in a few weeks.
Chris Dillmann | |

RED CLIFF — After years of waiting for federal agencies, Red Cliff could start pulling broadband wire by Friday, Sept. 22, and have live internet in a couple of weeks.

“It’s a brave new world for Red Cliff,” said Anuschka Bales, Red Cliff mayor.

Late Monday afternoon, Sept. 18, Bales got the word from the Pike & San Isabel National Forests in Leadville and Pueblo.

The decision was bounced upstream from the Leadville district office to the Pike & San Isabel National Forests headquarters in Pueblo.

The decision memo should be in Pueblo by Tuesday, Sept. 19, and is expected to return to Red Cliff and Leadville on Wednesday, Sept. 20, or Thursday, Sept. 21, bearing the signature of Forest Supervisor Erin Connelly.

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Red Cliff’s contractors, Mountain Radio Systems and Forethought, should be able to start pulling wire by Friday, Bales said.

The Forest Service still has to issue a special-use permit, but the excavation, conduit and fiber optic cable to be installed at Ski Cooper can proceed without it, said Andy Cadenhead, physical resources officer with the Pike & San Isabel National Forests.

“We have a way to get the on-the-ground work done,” Cadenhead said.

They’ll still need that special-use permit to flip the switches and go live, but the construction will be behind them, Bales said.

Fiber optic’s already nearby

Fiber optic cable runs along U.S. Highway 24 past Ski Cooper, between Minturn and Leadville at the top of Tennessee Pass. Red Cliff wants to run fiber optic cable up Ski Cooper to the top of the mountain, where a dish would beam broadband into Red Cliff. The town spent its own money to build an 80-foot tower to receive the signal.

Ski Cooper is in the Pike & San Isabel National Forests, with regional headquarters in Leadville, not the White River National Forest, which has its Holy Cross District headquarters in Minturn.

Red Cliff, Eagle County’s oldest town, will be the county’s last incorporated area to get broadband, apart from bundling with satellite television companies. Bond and McCoy, unincorporated areas in northwest Eagle County, also do not have broadband access.

Red Cliff started the process in 2014 when the town asked the Pike & San Isabel National Forests for a special-use permit.

After going back and forth with the Forest Service, Ski Cooper and others, Red Cliff reworked its application and resubmitted it in October 2016.

“Lots of technical details contributed to some of these delays. Some of it was on Red Cliff’s part, and quite honestly, some of it was us,” Cadenhead said.

Fixed wireless

Broadband can be delivered by wire or satellite, or by fixed wireless. Fixed wireless comes off a tower like the one Red Cliff built, and the broadband is distributed by the tower to homes or businesses, explained Nathan Walowitz, regional broadband coordinator with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

When it arrives, Red Cliff customers will pay around $70 a month for up to 24 megabits of broadband, said Eric Hager, vice president for business development for Futurum, a Front Range company hired to do the job. Futurum acquired San Isabel Telecom in late December 2016, and now has 15,000 rural Colorado customers from Durango to Grand Junction to Vail, Hager said.

Futurum will install a microwave dish at the top of Ski Cooper on an existing lift building.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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