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Regional Spotlight: Central Western Slope

posted Jun 24, 2014, 2:35 PM by Megan Chadwick Gernert - OIT   [ updated Jun 24, 2014, 2:35 PM ]

Regional Planning

Region 10 League for Economic Assistance and Planning was recently awarded a grant through the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) to develop a broadband implementation plan, and is now requesting proposals for plan development.  Within the region, broadband has been identified as one of the top concerns in community and economic development.  Although several of the counties and communities have worked on improving broadband services locally, in the fall of last year, the discussion turned to a regional plan of service to ensure continuity and efficiencies.  The funding will be utilized to create a methodology for providing affordable and adequate broadband services throughout the six county region, including Delta, Gunnison, Montrose, Hinsdale, Ouray and San Miguel counties.  Recognizing the need for improvement in broadband services and coverage, the counties and communities committed to a special assessment to cover the required match for the grant.

The plan goals are to provide abundant, redundant and affordable Internet service to citizens, businesses and visitors within the six-county region, through an assessment of needs for infrastructure and services; a strategy that includes surveys, public meetings, and asset mapping; educational workshops to provide information regarding the regulations, economics, and technology needed to develop a realistic plan; identification of the public and private projects already underway to address these needs;  identification of gaps in the network and development of a blueprint to fill these gaps; and by addressing the sustainability and maintenance of the network into the future.  The RFP for development of the broadband plan is available on the Region10 website.

While Region 10 is just beginning to develop a region-wide plan, some of the local communities have working for years to solve their broadband problems at a local level.  Below are two examples of projects underway within Region 10 that will change the broadband landscape and will play a significant role in the Region 10 broadband implementation plan.  

Montrose Takes Action to Become a Gigabit City

by Virgil Turner, Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement, City of Montrose

On April 1st, 2014, seventy-four percent of the voters in the Montrose municipal election, voted to restore the ability of this local government to provide broadband services, just as we do with other utilities.  Previously restricted by state law, Montrose now has a whole new set of options when attempting to solve its broadband issues.  

According to OOKLA Net Index Explorer, Montrose is ranked 51st in the state for download speeds while being ranked 29th in the state for population. The Montrose City Council made a commitment in 2012 to tackle the lack of adequate broadband availability and affordability.  Since then we have been exploring existing conditions limiting advanced telecommunications in this City of 19,000.  While several issues have surfaced, most important is the fact our telecom infrastructure is predominantly copper.  While some fiber exists in Montrose, it is very limited.

To move Montrose from where we are today to where we want to be will require an investment in the replacement of this copper infrastructure to one of fiber optics.  In speaking to the incumbent telecom providers, it became obvious help would not come from that quarter.  If Montrose was going to make this transition soon, it must find a local solution.  The state law resulting form SB 05-152 limited the options for Montrose and many other local governments, in finding these local solutions.  With this obstacle out of our way we are free to explore a wide variety of options including government participation.

Our action plan in Montrose, since April 1st, has several tasks.  First we are looking at policies and code changes necessary to support a build out of our new fiber infrastructure.  Also on the April 1st ballot were changes to our Municipal Charter to allow Montrose to form a telecommunications utility, if need be.  We are evaluating our aerial infrastructure, undergrounding ordinance, excavation permits, dig-once policies and engineering standards.

We will be conducting a market study to provide answers on what our residents and businesses need and what they are willing to pay to get it.  We are continuing to identify potential partners in reaching our goals.  Identification of the right business model will be a major focus as we move forward.  Montrose has unique challenges and advantages in building out a new fiber infrastructure and we want to address those in a way to afford the highest promise of success. 

While the path we follow is not certain at this time, the goal is certain; Montrose will become a Gigabit City.

TV Whitespace Technology Trial at Delta County Library District

by John Gavan, IT Manager, Delta County Library District

Last fall, Delta County Library District was selected as one of five libraries nationwide to conduct a trial of Super WiFi (aka TV Whitespace) technology.  TVWS is a new wireless technology that takes advantage of the radio spectrum that was freed up when TV broadcasting moved from analog to digital transmission.  The FCC made this precious radio spectrum available on an unlicensed basis, provided that stringent mechanisms were put in place by the hardware suppliers to prevent accidental interference with TV broadcasting.

TV Whitespace networking operates in the VHF (174 – 216 MHz) and UHF (470-786 MHz) frequency bands which have different propagation characteristics than the microwave frequencies that are more typically used for fixed wireless/WiFi services.  VHF and UHF radio waves are capable of penetrating dense tree canopy and they will diffract to some degree around hills, buildings and other obstructions.  TV Whitespace thus has the ability to serve individuals and communities where traditional fixed wireless services cannot establish a reliable transmission path.

In the case of Delta County Library District, we used the TV Whitespace technology to extend our public WiFi services in the small and heavily treed town of Paonia.  We established a base station radio at the Paonia library branch and installed the base station radio and an omnidirectional antenna on the roof.  We used the branch’s existing internet connection as our backhaul to the internet.   We then set up two TVWS client radios on Grand Ave. in Paonia and at the Paonia Town Park.  The TVWS radios provided a 9 Mbps link back to the Paonia library and in turn fed outdoor access points to provide the WiFi hotspot service to the public.

For the trial, the Library District used Carslon Wireless Inc.’s Rural Connect II TVWS radio equipment coupled with Cisco Meraki outdoor access points.  Custom brackets were fabricated to house the equipment on the roof of a local office building and on the stage at the Paonia Town Park.  Both the Carlson TVWS radio equipment and the Cisco Meraki access points are cloud managed, so the service can be easily and remotely managed over the internet.   System reliability has been very good and customer acceptance has been growing by the month.  We now are typically seeing 120 users a day send up to 10 Gb of data in a 24 hour period.

Towards the end of the trial, our expected funding source that was going to fund the procurement of the equipment at the end of the trial, evaporated due to external circumstances.   We were left flatfooted by this and decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise funds.   In 30 days we were able to raise $ 4,200 from local donors and from as far away as Africa.  This allowed us to purchase the equipment at the end of the trial and make this a permanent offering.

This project demonstrated how rural libraries can provide a real public service by extending public internet access further into the community.  Delta County is size of Rhode Island and is the 8th poorest county in Colorado on a per capita income basis.  Many of our residents cannot afford the $ 40 to $ 80 monthly cost of internet access and they thus come to the libraries for this service.  Based on the success of this program, we are exploring options to also provide this service in the additional towns of Cedaredge and Hotchkiss.

John Gavan can be reached at