Residents of the Roaring Fork Valley hope to get reliable high-speed internet service if Pitkin County officials approve a $13.7 million broadband infrastructure plan.
According to the Aspen Daily News, the county was granted $150,000 from the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) toward the design and analysis of the second phase of the project. The envisioned infrastructure would incorporate existing, leased fiber lines; establish “meet-me points” in Basalt and Aspen; and add access towers in some of the more remote stretches of the valley including east of Aspen, up Maroon and Castle creeks, Old Snowmass, the Fryingpan River Valley, and in the Redstone and Marble areas.
“Broadband has really struggled up in Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork watershed, because the lack of population density and lots of geographic barriers,” County management analyst Kara Silbernagel told the Daily News. “There’s not an easy way for private companies to get a return on investment.” But there was no “silver bullet” solution, and a hybrid fiber line and wireless microwave system would be most feasible.
An additional 2,100 homes would be connected by the plan in more remote areas. Silbernagel said that Pitkin County will just be one entity among many that will be needed to get the plan online. The Daily News said a survey conducted in the study’s first phase showed that residents ranked reliability, speed and cost as the most important factors for broadband.
“We’ve said time and again that we don’t want to be a broadband municipal provider,” Silbernagel said. “But we want to make sure there’s abundant service, there’s quality and reliable service, and it’s affordable and sustainable for people in the future.”
The cost for replacing line poles was set at $666,000 and $1.75 million would be allocated for nine access towers. The towers would be installed in phases, and take between two and three years to complete, according to the Daily News.
A wireless microwave signal would then be used to cover more remote areas in Emma, Lenado, Thomasville, and Marble.
“From those meet-me points, it would feed through a microwave technology to towers,” Silbernagel said. “And from there you could have fixed wireless providers that could feed the drainages and then from there, to get into all the nooks and crannies, you could use relay towers to extend those services even further,” she told the Daily News.
Silbernagel said outreach and engagement with stakeholders will proceed, and a final plan would be forthcoming later this summer. More precise costs would also be available at that time, she added.
Fellow Commissioner Michael Owsley told the Daily News it’s imperative that broadband be expanded in the valley.
“Internet access is like the air, and if you choke off the air, people will choose other places to live and to do business,” he said. “We need to be a good choice for a place to live and a place to do business and the internet is crucial.”