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Regional Spotlight: Southwest Colorado

posted Apr 17, 2014, 11:13 AM by Megan Chadwick Gernert - OIT   [ updated Apr 22, 2014, 10:53 AM ]
SCAN Project Overview
by Miriam Gillow-Wiles, SWCCOG

The Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG) area encompasses the state defined Region 9 of Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, and San Juan Counties, which includes the municipalities of Bayfield, Cortez, Dolores, Dove Creek, Durango, Ignacio, Mancos, Pagosa Springs, Rico, and Silverton. In 2010 the SWCCOG embraced improving access to broadband in the region as its first large scale endeavor, and set about to create the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN). The primary driver for this initiative was the lack of affordable broadband options and in some cases complete absence of broadband capabilities in the region. The SWCCOG applied for and was awarded a $3 million Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant. The grant required a 25% match, or $1 million total in local funds from the four counties and nine municipalities that participated in construction of the local fiber loops.

The SCAN project has been a three year undertaking, and as of March 31st, the building of infrastructure and the DOLA grant is officially completed. Through the process of collaboration with community anchor institutions (libraries, schools, fire departments etc…), working together with existing private providers, and many, many meetings, the participating communities and counties created a groundbreaking network in Southwest Colorado. Through this process, the SWCCOG and member entities spent the grant efficiently and effectively to extend fiber to anchor institutions and local government buildings. In addition to establishing and enhancing close working relationships with local providers, the SCAN project increased economic opportunities for providers to reach under or unserved customers. Altogether, the newly minted public-private partnerships will help ensure the success of the SCAN project and deliver affordable, stable broadband services to the local governments and other anchor institutions.

As March was coming to a close, the final steps included installing hub routers at two community aggregation points to allow data to move across the network. Each participating entity has a smaller edge router which in the coming weeks will be communicating directly with the hub routers to save time and coordination 
between communities. As an example, police department X can directly communicate with police department Y for things such as video arraignments. The current system has community X driving to community Y for a hearing and then driving back to community X. SCAN can and will easily save thousands of dollars in overhead to conduct normal day to day business. In addition to saving time and money through direct communication with one another, the participating local governments will save money on their connectivity and telecommunication costs via coordinated purchasing agreements.

Although the SCAN project is a success, there were definite hurdles and the occasional mistake to overcome. If forced to do this over again, we would better outline the needs and wants of the local governments. Additionally, we would ensure cooperation and communication with the local providers to initially forge stronger public-private partnerships and to delineate roles prior to beginning construction. As this was a new idea for the vast majority of communities and counties, better (non-technical) education about equipment, infrastructure, and the operations of the SCAN project for local government administrators (especially those communities who do not have dedicated IT staff) would help with communication as to the importance and the impact of the project across staff and elected officials. Finally, the SWCCOG could have and should have communicated with the local media for comprehension of the public as to the benefits of this endeavor.

Overall, this highly technical and complicated venture has been a great accomplishment for the region. Creating a set of policies and procedures, a business plan, expected budgets, and realistic outcomes helped guide the planning and construction phases. In keeping expectations and budgets realistic, the majority of communities were able to keep over spending within reason. Establishment of policies, procedures, and a business plan initially, will help with a successful transition from a grant funded project to a sustainable program for the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments.

For more information about the SCAN project, please visit the SWCCOG website