This article originally appeared in Gunnison Country Times, and Region 10 received permission to republish. 

Region 10 to hire broadband coordinator

Position funded by economic development grant

By Alan Wartes
Gunnison Times Staff Writer

These days, there is at least one thing upon which most people in rural Colorado can agree — the need for improved broadband internet service. Recent outages across much of the Western Slope have left little doubt that the combination of society’s increasing dependence on the internet and lagging infrastructure development is a real problem facing communities in the region.

Region 10 — a “non-profit organization offering public programs in support of eighteen local communities and six counties in western Colorado”  — is taking the lead in tackling the issue. The group is spearheading a major project to improve internet redundancy throughout the region — that is, to provide “carrier neutral” backup conduits for internet service — whether through parallel fiber optic cables or other means of transmission.
To better manage that program, Region 10 has announced plans to hire a regional broadband coordinator. The position will be funded for the first two years by a $150,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation.
“Recognizing the impact of access to broadband on the region’s economic development efforts, Region 10 and the San Juan Regional Council of El Pomar Foundation have recognized the value of a regional broadband coordinator,” a foundation release states. “This position will be responsible for managing the implementation of the Region 10 broadband plan, as well as coordinating with local governments and internet service providers to leverage resources and complete middle mile broadband connections.”
The grant was recommended by El Pomar’s San Juan Regional Council, one of 11 such bodies throughout Colorado designed to help disburse the foundation’s funding more evenly across the state. Former Gunnison County Commissioner Hap Channell is a member.
“As a council, we wanted to help boost economic development in the region and felt that funding this coordinator position was a tangible way to do just that,” he wrote in an e-mail.
“In a perfect world, the West Slope would not have our systems go down like they did recently,” said Region 10 Executive Director Michelle Haynes. “We would have sufficient redundancy to maintain adequate service at all times. That means that businesses and individuals have access to the services they need at an affordable enough rate that they are competitive with anyone else in the state or in the country.”
Haynes admits, however, that achieving that goal — especially in challenging locations like Gunnison County — is at best a long-term, expensive undertaking. At present, CenturyLink owns the only fiber optic cable coming in and out of the community, and the investment needed to duplicate that system as a backstop against outages is prohibitive.
The Region 10 infrastructure program — in which a number of local governments and organizations are participating — is exploring a variety of alternative methods of connecting the Gunnison Valley with networks elsewhere in the state. Those include microwave links pointed east and south and a plan to use high-tension power lines belonging to the Western Area Power Administration.
“The story is still to try to get people to envision the internet as entertainment, a luxury, an add-on if you will,” said Haynes. “But that’s not what it’s become. It’s a necessity, and it probably should have been thought of all along as a public utility, but it certainly is at a utility level now.
Haynes said Region 10 has received numerous “promising” applications for the new position, and she hopes to have the job filled by Aug. 1.