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3/8/2018 With broadband approval, the devil’s in the details
As reported in last week’s issue of the Tribune, The Custer County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) unanimously approved moving forward with the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant process to start work on expanding broadband capabilities in Custer County. This has been a very long process and the Custer County Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC) has worked hard to answer the many questions presented to them by the BOCC and citizens of the Valley. The BOCC and CCEDC held a workshop on Monday, February 26, to address questions the commissioners had, to see if they would move forward in the grant application process. During the workshop, Commissioner Jay Printz clarified that the county is not a utility, it would only own the new towers. The new towers would enable the utilities to come in and put their equipment on the new towers and expand the services to citizens of Custer County. Printz feels that better cellular service in the county is needed so that in an emergency, people can call and get help. Printz further stated that economic development in Custer County is very important and needs to be managed so it doesn’t “run over us”. High-speed internet, also known as broadband, will help citizens of the county to work from home “without a large footprint.” Printz stated that for him, his decision would come down to two factors: What will it cost the county to maintain because we aren’t a utility? And what is the likelihood that a better service would come about in the near future? Will satellites replace towers? Commissioner Bill Canda said that despite what has been going around the community, he and the other commissioners do want broadband increased in the Valley. Canda had concerns as to whether new technology with satellite capability will make the use of towers outdated. Canda also expressed concern that the county could be on the hook with the cost of maintaining the towers for 20 years. Commissioner Tom Flower expressed that he wanted as much information as possible before he votes on any issue. Charles Bogle and Dale Mullen, representatives of the CCEDC, presented to the BOCC that they had obtained letters of intent from SECOM Wireless and Hilltop Broadband. Mullen made clear to the two companies that Custer County would not move forward unless there was a commitment from them not to offer “internet only” service. Mullen stated that Custer County does have internet only service available already. CenturyLink does not provide broadband, they provide digital subscriber loop (DSL). This archaic technology transmits digital data over telephone lines as opposed to fiber technology. The new proposed towers would need to be 100 feet high instead of the 20 feet that they are at this time. This height will allow for a better sight over the “lip of the hills” and increase coverage. In an interview later with the Tribune, Canda said that while the commissioners supported this specific measure, there are still multiple issues to work out, including site placement for the towers, firming up contracts with providers and others. If these details can’t be worked out, Canda said, the county would have little choice but to back out of the present deal. Of the unanimous approval by the BOCC, Mullen said, “We are very appreciative of the commissioner’s support for the proposed Broadband Infrastructure Expansion Plan. Their unanimous vote in favor spoke volumes to the State and Federal agencies involved. We have much work ahead of us to bring this to reality but it is nice to know that attitudes have swung from opposition to support.” Members of the CCEDC and all three commissioners will attend a meeting with DOLA in Golden to present their case for grant approval. A timeline is still in the works. The process will be long and there are still some questions and a few uncertainties that will need to be answered. Those that support the efforts by CCEDC are ready to see where this new venture takes the county and its citizens. – Tracy Ballard