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Carrier Perspectives: South Park Telephone Co. connects the Guffey Community Charter School

posted Nov 3, 2014, 12:22 PM by Megan Chadwick Gernert - OIT   [ updated Nov 3, 2014, 12:23 PM ]
A cherished frontier tradition from the Old West—friends and neighbors pulling together for a common cause—has helped bring 21st-century telecommunications technology to a remote school and the community it serves in central Colorado’s high country. 

Through a classic display of pioneer spirit, a can-do mind-set—and the timely intervention of a rural Colorado telephone company—the Guffey Community Charter School’s 39 students as well as surrounding homes and businesses for the first time have a viable link to the Internet and all that it brings. Particularly for the kids, it has opened up a whole new world of learning. 

Tiny Guffey, about an hour and a half west of Colorado Springs, had been all but cut off from the Net. No high-speed access was available through regulated land-line provider CenturyLink, and no other provider seemed willing or able to step in. All that tethered Guffey residents, businesses and public facilities to the digital world was a rudimentary satellite link, which meant endless buffering and loading for even the simplest procedures.

“They were an unserved area,” says David Shipley, business manager at South Park Telephone Co., based in nearby Hartsel.

Then about a year ago, Park County officials began hosting community meetings to gauge the demand for high-speed Net access around the county, particularly for schools and libraries, and to figure out how to provide it. 

Spearheaded by County Commissioner Mike Brazell, the effort zeroed in on the Guffey Community Charter School as a prime candidate for an upgraded Net link. The K-8 public school was the only educational institution of any kind for miles around and served all of Guffey’s children, so its need was especially great.

That’s when Brazell and the county reached out to Shipley and South Park Telephone, which serves some 600 square miles of Park County and provides broadband net access over a fixed wireless platform supported by a middle-mile fiber-optic network. While the company could not offer land-line phone service to the Guffey area under Public Utilities Commission regulations, it could beam in broadband if it had the right access point.

The phone company, the county, the school and its many supporters went to work on a plan of action. Right next to the school was a workable location for an access point that could receive a microwave transmission from a South Park Telephone transmitter atop Dick’s Peak. 

However, the school needed to acquire the 20-acre parcel to accommodate the receiver. So, it set out to raise the funds. The school was able to tap into philanthropy from the Colorado Springs-based El Pomar Foundation as well as the Cripple Creek-Victor Mine. An area ranch chipped in, and a grant from the Park County Conservation Trust helped, as well. So did a whole lot of small donations from the school’s loyal parents and neighbors, says Guffey Community Charter Principal Pam Moore. South Park Telephone donated the 50-foot telephone pole needed to pick up the microwave signal and the receiver, and the school bought the solar-powered equipment to power the system.

It all translates to no less than a telecommunications breakthrough for Guffey, and on Sept. 30, the school and the entire community celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Moore says the students themselves were given a chance to weigh in at the gathering, attesting to what it all means.

“They were delighted. Every single kid had a moment to tell the story. It was a very emotional time,” says Moore.

“Some of our families just have a cell phone. Many have no computers at home.”

Shipley notes that before the big leap forward, the school’s students had to be bused some 30 miles to Fairplay just to take statewide assessment tests. And Moore says yet other scholastic tools are available to students now that they can access them via computer. Indeed, Guffey’s schoolchildren at last can catch up with the strides being made through online learning by their peers across much of the rest of Colorado.

Students can access an online interactive reading program for example. And an online interactive math program enables the school to move students forward through the curriculum at their own pace, addressing each child’s specific needs and abilities.

“It meets the children where they are at,” Moore says. 

“This is huge,” she says. “It really opens up a portal to the world.”

Shipley, meanwhile, reflects on how the whole effort brought the community together—a case of civic pride meets basic need, a public-private partnership if ever there was one. Residents, many of modest means, pitched in alongside local government, charitable foundations and private enterprise.

Says Shipley, “At the end of the day, all of us made it happen.”