Broadband consultant seeks grants to fund ‘middle mile’ to entice telecoms to reach rural towns | SteamboatToday.com

Broadband consultant seeks grants to fund ‘middle mile’ to entice telecoms to reach rural towns

Consultant to the Routt County Board of Commissioners (BOC) and Northwest Colorado Broadband, Diane Kruse of NEO Fiber advised the BOC to begin searching for grant money from several sources and at the same time seek proposals from telecomm's who might be interested in helping extend fiber optic cable to small Routt County towns if grants are in place.

— Diane Kruse, a broadband consultant engaged by Routt County to lay out strategies for enticing telecoms to help build the "middle mile" of high-speed Internet connectivity needed to ultimately reach homes, businesses and governments in smaller Routt County communities, advised the Routt County Board of County Commissioners Monday to pursue more funding to entice providers to help make it happen.

"I suggest you put out an invitation and ask, 'If we get grants to build the middle mile, what can you invest in order to do that last mile (where the profit lies)?'" Kruse said in a conference call.

She is the CEO of NEO Fiber in Glenwood Springs.

Kruse told county commissioners that building momentum for extending high speed fiber across the state is beginning to attract more providers to the region. The key for smaller counties and communities is to leverage grants to help build the costly middle mile, which doesn't offer returns to the private sector, to get them on board with a project.

She recommended extending an invitation to bid or negotiate a private-public collaboration.

"If you extend an invitation to bid or negotiate private-public partnerships, you could leverage grants to help with the middle mile and share the cost of the build,” Kruse said. “It's easier to get that bid for last mile service."

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"They might pay 10 or 20 percent of the middle mile, but (the telecoms) are really in it for the last mile," County Manager Tom Sullivan agreed.

Sullivan has played a role in a multi-year effort that is expected this year to result in the construction of nine miles of fiber optic trunk line between east and west Steamboat. The new cable is being counted on to build upon the potential of a carrier-neutral location, which was created in 2014 in downtown Steamboat, and to provide lateral connections for more affordable and redundant broadband service for local institutions.

The project will be supported by a $748,000 matching grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The new fiber optic line, and laterals shooting off it, will serve the county's public safety complex, Yampa Valley Electric Association headquarters and its substation, the city of Steamboat Springs Mountain Fire Station, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Colorado Mountain College and the Steamboat Springs School District.

Kruse reassured the Board of Commissioners Monday that in spite of tightening state funding, DOLA officials confirmed they will continue to fund broadband projects in rural areas. However, she urged county commissioners to begin their search for assistance with the federal Western Area Power Administration, which could be a source for fiber optic cable.

Other potential grant sources she said include the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Telehealth Program and U.S. Department of Education E-Rate grants.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1