By Sheridan Block
Though its efforts to bring broadband to Ouray County have been at a standstill for months, EAGLE-Net will finally be able resume its work to bring the county up-to-date with the rest of the state.
The suspension was lifted on Apr. 30. In a statement posted on its website that day, the company announced that it will continue work on its statewide broadband infrastructure project, which had been suspended for nearly five months.
On Dec. 6, 2012, a letter from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a suspension of the company’s Broadband Technology and Opportunities Program infrastructure grant, which caused the company to put a halt to its work. The letter cited “ongoing concerns” with the company’s compliance to grant award terms and conditions. Specifically, EAGLE-Net altered build routes detailed in the original environmental impact study without approval.
Since receiving the letter, EAGLE-Net had been working to provide NTIA with the requested information until the suspension was lifted last week.
“The hard work is ahead of us,” said Mike Ryan, president of EAGLE-Net Alliance. Ryan replaced former president Dr. Randy Zila in January.
Now that the suspension has been lifted, EAGLE-Net is organizing a plan of action that focuses on 29 school districts, including those in Ouray County. Pat Swonger, the company’s Southwest Regional Community Representative, said they should have a definitive schedule within the next couple of weeks.
“We just came off (the suspension) so it’s just a matter of getting the contractors and everything lined up,” he told the Plaindealer on Monday, May 6. “(Ouray) is on the list of 29 and they’re slated for completion here in this construction cycle.”
According to last week’s press release, EAGLE-Net plans to complete most of its construction by August. The company will also request an extension of its BTOP project through 2014. By the end of this phase, the company expects to have over 50 percent of the combined school districts connected to the EAGLE-Net network. Ultimately, the statement said, EAGLE-Net hopes to have all of Colorado’s school districts access a shared education network.
While connection speeds are relatively slow throughout Ouray County, there are other sites that have it worse, like Silverton. Swonger said that because of the six-month delay and seasonality of construction, those locations in rural Colorado wouldn’t see broadband until next year at best.
“It’s a killer, but it’ll be completed next year. Funds are committed and both NTIA and EAGLE-Net are committed to meeting that list of 29,” said Swonger.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan effort to help connect rural Colorado with broadband service was read in the Senate last week. Senate Bill 13-287 details the plan to invest in cell phone and broadband infrastructure in rural areas that are unserved or underserved, with priority given to underserved areas.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Nicholson (D-Gilpin County) and Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) converts parts of the existing rural high cost fund into a new rural broadband fund. The bill will cut consumers’ telephone tax and extend Internet access to unserved areas, said Brophy.
The Rural Telecommunications Act, as the bill was dubbed, was moved forward to a second-reading in the Senate on a 4 to 1 vote.