New technology survey may determine fate of future services – Rick Langenberg

tIf you are unhappy with your current Internet and cellular phone services, or want to gripe about overall dead zones and frequent communication woes in the Teller high country; or for that matter, are satisfied with the status quo and certain new improvements, now is the time to make your voice known.

Teller residents and business owners will soon be asked to partake in a major survey and forthcoming community meetings as part of a major $75,000 grant for a technology study. The company hired to do the study is the Glenwood Springs-based NEO Fiber.

The study is aimed at outlining an inventory of current technological services, identifying gaps and providing a roadmap of where the county should head in meeting the 21st century demands. It won’t, though, foot the bill for financing future towers or infrastructure to provide better services.

“What would we like to have and how do we get there,” said Teller County Commission Vice-Chairman Norm Steen, in outlining the focus of the study and strategic plan. Steen is a leading member of the Local Planning Technology Committee, which helped spearhead the grant.

The grant is a county-wide effort with participating entities consisting of the cities of Woodland Park, Cripple Creek and Victor, the two school districts (RE-1 and RE-2) and Teller County. The vast majority of the money for the grant came from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Each participating entity then paid a small match of $3,125. Besides local governments, several regional providers of these services have been included in the process, such as Century Link and Peak Internet

During last week’s regular commissioners meeting, Steen confirmed that the grant has been finalized and the NEO Fiber company got the contract. According to their website, NEO Fiber has prior experience in technology initiatives launched by Colorado communities. This study will focus on three main areas: broadband Internet, cellular phone services and emergency radio communications.

Steen said the next phase of the project will include residential and business surveys, targeting the Teller County area. He also indicated that several community meetings will be held to generate more input.

The actual study should be completed early next year, according to Steen.

Once this study is done, then the commissioner believes the door will open wider for additional grant funding for better infrastructure to enhance better communications services. According to Steen, a considerable amount of state and federal grant money is available for rural areas that are seeking to improve broadband Internet and phone services. 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.

However, some local industry advocates don’t believe the county is moving fast enough and is once again squandering money on reaching a conclusion that is quite apparent: Teller County has serious technology gaps and needs better infrastructure.

“This money will be wasted on a consultant to tell the county what we already know. We know where the weak spots are and what needs to be improved,” said Jayson Baker of Peak Internet, in a previous e-mail to The Mountain Jackpot regarding the awarding of the grant.“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.”

Regardless, Baker said the company is now proceeding with a major expansion that includes 18 tower sites.

Steen reiterated last week that this phase of the technology study project isn’t meant to offer money to certain companies. He indicated the study would develop an overall game plan and identify problem areas and compile a detailed inventory of current communications and high tech services “We really need to decide where we need to go,” said Steen, in a previous interview, when the program was first announced.

He believes improving these services is critical for the economic health of the region and for providing public safety. “More and more people are working at home,” said the commissioner.