Glenwood Springs company may get the nod for technology contract

Glenwood Springs company may get the nod for technology contract
Local Internet provider not happy with focus of project

Rick Langenberg

Although the final crossing of the Ts hasn’t’ occurred yet for a major technology study, aimed at identifying key gaps in Teller County and developing an action plan, a local advisory committee appears poised to select a Glenwood Springs firm for the job,

The proposed contractor, NEO Fiber, is the frontrunner in the selection for doing a major strategic plan. According to their website, the Glenwood Springs firm has done many plans for a variety of communities and areas impacted by new technology initiatives.

This is part of a $75,000 state grant, which will identify high-speed broadband Internet weaknesses in the county and address the difficult issues of cellular phone technology and emergency radio communications. According to Teller County Commissioner Norm Steen, who is a key leader of the Local Planning Technology Committee, the study should be completed by the early part of 2016.

He said last week that the effort would involve many public meetings, and is the first step in what could amount to major technological improvements in the area. He cited the strong collaboration among Teller County and the cities of Cripple Creek, Victor and Woodland Park, and two school districts, as a major plus. Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray DuBois also has been a big champion of the project, touting this as a good example of cooperation among the various governments.

However, not everyone is thrilled with the direction of the county’s pro-technology push and say Teller officials are wasting a bunch of time and money. Some residents have contacted The Mountain Jackpot to complain about problems they are experiencing with one of the major Internet and phone providers in the state. They allege that some residents are being told the company can’t provide new Internet service and can only deal with the requests of existing customers in certain areas. They want the county to take a stronger role in putting pressure on existing companies and don’t believe they are getting a fair deal.

And a key operator of one of the key local Internet providers, Peak Internet, questions why this money is being squandered on a study, period.

“This money will be wasted on a consultant to tell the county what we already know (and have told the county in their monthly broadband meetings for over a year). We know where the weak spots are and what needs (to be) improved. We have provided service to the county for over 14 years,” stated Jayson Baker of Peak Internet, in an e-mail to The Mountain Jackpot regarding the awarding of this grant.

“During these meetings we asked for the county’s assistance in planning the expansion of our network to service these areas. Month after month our requests were blatantly ignored and blown off. Almost as if the commissioner running the meeting had their own side agenda and didn’t really care about the actual outcome of the meetings.”

Regardless, the Peak Internet official said the company is now proceeding with a major expansion that includes 18 tower sites. Baker said this will provide big benefits for the county, and encompass the Internet needs of 90 percent of rural residents.

Steen said that this phase of the technology study project isn’t meant to deal with problems customers are having with their providers, or to offer money to certain companies. He said the study would develop an overall game plan and identify problem areas. “We really need to decide where we need to go,” said Steen. Moreover, he believes this grant, and the study by the contractor, could open the door to a multitude of federal and state technology assistance programs that are now available. Steen cited expanded broadband Internet in rural areas as a big focus by both the feds and the state government. This push was accelerated by an initiative announced by President Obama earlier this year that would allow local governments to establish broadband networks in their areas, and would do away with previous state restrictions.

But the commissioner has insisted that local officials don’t want to interfere with the work of local providers.

According to Steen, future grants will probably provide funding assistance to individual companies to increase service in the region, and lead to the development of more towers and better infrastructure. He also said that more collaboration may occur between Teller and El Paso counties in the area of technology improvements.

Broadband Internet and cellular phone technology has been a big hurdle for the area, with plenty of horror stories. DuBois, who previously served as the general manager of the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company (CC&V) said he previously had to drive from his office in Victor to Cripple Creek just to make or receive a cell phone call. Parts of Florissant and Green Mountain Falls also have become infamous for their dead zones.

Some of the area’s weaknesses came to light during the power outages of last spring that walloped key areas in the county, with residents experiencing dark periods for several consecutive days. The Cripple Creek gaming community incurred an outage that cost businesses millions of dollars.