Region 9 Applies for $87 Million Broadband Infrastructure Grant

9/20/2022

The Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, along with municipal and county governments in the five-county area, hope to win an $87 million grant from the new federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act to build one of the largest regional fiber optics infrastructure projects in more than 20 years. This story is sponsored by TruWest Auto and the law firm of Downs McDonough Cowan and Foley

The Region Nine Economic Development District and Southwest Colorado municipal and county governments hoped to build the long, elusive middle mile of fiber optic infrastructure in one of the most ambitious regional telecommunications projects in 20 years. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by TrueWest Auto and the law firm of Downs, McDonough, Cowan and Foley. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

Middle Mile is the piece of a fiber optic network or an Internet network that connects end users back to a central hub. So when there's fiber optic line coming from a line that's hauling a lot of data to your house, that's called last mile. Middle mile is what's in between you and the source of whatever's lighting up the fiber.

Region nine is preparing a grant application for $87 million through the new Infrastructure and Jobs Act. Local governments have committed to a 30% match or $26 million for a fiber optic infrastructure project totaling $113 million. It's the largest scale regional public investment project in more than 20 years, on par with the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments. $4 million investment to provide high capacity Internet access to regional governments in 2010. Power said building the Middle Mile Project seemed as elusive as the Holy Grail because no local, state, or federal funding was available for rural projects of the magnitude that had been proposed for Southwest Colorado. But the COVID pandemic and two significant interruptions to service that occurred in 2020 and 2021 were the catalyst that revived interest in the middle mile that coincided with the passage of the Infrastructure and Jobs Act to fund the project. Region nine took the lead earlier this year to wrangle Southwest Colorado Governance to prepare a proposal and grant application. Powers said the Middle Mile Project is critical to sustainable economic development in the region. 20% of Southwest Colorado has no Internet access, and where Internet service does exist, it's often unreliable and cripples economic growth in the most rural of counties. Silverton is a case in point.

In Silverton when they've only got the at this point wireless coming in from CenturyLink and when the wires to the tower get cut, or something else happens to cause their network to go down, which occurs frequently. Their businesses, which you know are completely tourist and retail driven, they can only take cash, they can even process credit cards. And so without having reliable access to the Internet, they spend a lot of the time not being able to make the sales that they need at all.

If the region's grant application is successful, the federal government would make the award in early 2023, with construction expected to start in the same year, the Middle Mile Project will install an open access broadband network from Wolf Creek to Cortez along US Highway 160, from Durango to Silverton along US Highway 550, from 162 Dolores along Colorado State Highway 184, and from 162 Reko along State Highway 145. In addition, Emery Telecommunications is building a middle mile network in Dolores County and the Ute Mountain Ute and southern Indian tribes are investing in networks to connect small towns within their reservation's exterior boundaries. Once completed, the network would become available to private companies to build the final mile of service to homes and businesses.

Hopefully, when all of this is done, we will help connect the state ring, which is coming across Wolf Creek that connects back of Ty 25 and into Denver, and will be able to connect the portion that will go back up towards Region 10 and Grand Junction, and connect the Southwest ring for the state as well as provide access and redundancy across all of Region Nine.

To learn more, visit region9edd.org. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

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