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$5.2M broadband grant awarded

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Access to high speed Internet has been identified as a necessity for economic development, and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs will be providing $5.2 million to begin addressing this need on the Western Slope. On Aug. 6, Region 10 LEAP Inc. received the official notice of award for a grant it submitted in partnership with the cities of Delta and Montrose, Delta County, Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), and Delta County Economic Development (DCED). The grant will provide funding for the first phase of development of a proposed regional network that will start in Delta County and eastern Montrose County, and potentially extend into Gunnison, Hinsdale, Ouray and San Miguel counties during later phases.

Over a year ago, a gathering of community stakeholders -- representing a broad range of public and private interests -- came together to discuss how to improve broadband services. Delta County Commissioner Bruce Hovde was one of the original members of this stakeholders group, and continues to advocate for better broadband capacity. "Broadband is as essential to the growth of (our economy) in the 21st century as electricity and telephone were in the 1900s," Hovde said.

With Region 10 acting as fiscal agent, the group received a DOLA grant to develop an implementation plan. NEO Fiber, a consulting agency based in Carbondale that specializes in these types of projects, was contracted to develop this strategy. Diane Kruse, founder and CEO of NEO Fiber, has been diligently facilitating this process since July 2014.

"Region 10 and our partners are pleased that DOLA understood the need for development of this vital service in our area," said Michelle Haynes, executive director of Region 10. "Development of broadband infrastructure in a business environment increasingly dependent on technology has been compared to the importance of electrical infrastructure during the Industrial Revolution."

Haynes emphasized the team effort that was necessary to achieve this large award. "Diane Kruse developed a creative, highly-leveraged plan that costs about a third less than it would take to build the infrastructure," Haynes continues. "With other key participants, including local governments and DMEA, this plan can deliver a cost-effective service that meets the regional goals of affordable, abundant and redundant Internet access."

In March 2015, the board of DMEA voted unanimously to participate in the grant request, providing access to its fiberoptic infrastructure that is currently being built as an in-kind contribution. "This long-awaited announcement is a significant accomplishment for our entire service area and represents a true spirit of cooperation," adds Jason Bronec, DMEA's general manager. "We see this as an opportunity to use our existing assets to help improve the quality of life for our communities."

The $5.2 million award represents approximately half of the $9.5 million estimated budget for the Phase 1 buildout of the project, which covers the communities of Delta and east Montrose Counties. A second phase is currently in the final planning stages to cover Ouray, San Miguel, Hinsdale, and Gunnison counties. The regional plan is a combination of leases of existing fiberoptic lines and limited construction to provide a "middle mile" infrastructure that will connect to Carrier Neutral Location (CNL) open access points in each of the participating communities. The network will then be available for private "last mile" providers to deliver high-speed internet service to businesses and homes. "The project represents a true public-private partnership, where public investment is utilized to create a viable economy for private businesses," notes Haynes.

The project is not only supported by the contribution of DMEA's fiber infrastructure to assist in providing connectivity between the rural communities, but also by significant cash matches provided by the County and City of Delta, the City of Montrose, and other participating communities.

The communities have expressed a great deal of excitement in response to this news. Trish Thibodo, executive director of DCED, states, "Building high-speed and affordable broadband brings us forward and will make us more competitive and able to attract new businesses, entrepreneurs, and support our current businesses." For more information on the region's broadband efforts, please visit www.region10.net/broadband.

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