Beginning in 2012 and through 2013 the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments undertook the development of a regional broadband strategic plan with the intent of improving broadband throughout the region primarily for the sake of contributing to economic development but also to improve quality of life and contribute to public safety. 
The regional participants includes all of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments members (Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin and Summit Counties; most municipalities in those counties; Steamboat Springs; Glenwood Springs; and Carbondale).  Additionally, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt Counties chose to participate.

Each county appointed a representative to serve on a Broadband Steering Committee to help guide the efforts of the NWCCOG Broadband program.  This committee still meets on an as needed basis to share successes, work items, and Broadband initiative and challenges in their communities.
With assistance from a Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant, NWCCOG issued and RFP and selected Mid States Consultants, with Paul Reconzone as the project lead, to create a strategic plan for the region.

In early 2014, NWCCOG transitioned its Broadband program from strategic planning to initiative driven implementation. Nate Walowitz was hired as the NWCCOG Regional Broadband Coordinator in April to lead this effort.  One of first accomplishments was the development of a targeted, measurable, actionable Regional Project Plan.  This action plan was created through the integration of a number of recommendations in the strategic plan and stakeholder specific requirements based on meetings and site visits with all of the region’s government stakeholders.
Funding for the development of the Strategic Plan and the Regional Broadband Coordinator position is provided, in part, through a grant from DOLA.

In June 2014, the NWCCOG Broadband Steering Committee approved a project plan that included 23 initiatives for 2014 and 2015. Progress on these initiatives is being accomplished by working cooperatively with our government and Economic Development District partners.
One of the successful methodologies we are employing to support our initiatives is forging close relationships with multiple levels of government officials and existing or potential service providers. This has allowed NWCCOG to develop synergistic conversations and relationships which benefit broadband initiatives within each of our jurisdictions and the region as a whole.

In 2015, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) asked NWCCOG to allow Nate Walowitz to also take on the role of Statewide Broadband Specialist for DOLA. In this role, Nate reviews DOLA Broadband Grant applications, monitors project progress, provides technical assistance on telecommunciations and broadband issues to DOLA and other economic development regions around the state.

Nate Walowitz is also using his background and experience in public safety communcations to serve the region as a representative on the Colorado FirstNet Public Safety Broadband Network Board.

NWCCOG is working to address some of the challenges to ubiquitous broadband deployment that our county and local government stakeholders have in common. The lack of population density, distance between population centers and our beautiful mountain terrain clearly affects the business case for service providers that wish to create or extend their Broadband infrastructure and networks in our region. To help off-set these economic factors, we are working closely with our stakeholders, service providers and the State Office of Information Technology to coordinate and prepare responses for FCC Rural Broadband Expansion Experiments funding.

NWCCOG Economic Development and Broadband teams are actively engaging with regional and local economic development officials to understand the population, visitor, and business metrics for each area and how Broadband availability and performance affects each community.
The NWCCOG Broadband project and our constituent government agencies continue to drive service providers to improve broadband services in NW Colorado. We are accomplishing these goals through a number of specific projects to address specific regional needs.  NWCCOG continues to lead the state in the development of measurable, attainable broadband projects. The key to the NWCCOG strategy is assisting in the development and deployment of solutions that specifically address the needs of each individual area.  A one size fits all approach in not the optimal solution for our region.

The Federal Communications Commission in January 2015 redefined "broadband" as being a service that delivers download speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of 3 megabits per second (Mbps). We sometimes shorten this to 25Mbps/3Mbps or 25/3. Putting this in perspective, a study by one telephone company determined that residential users need 40 Mbps to support a 21st century lifestyle. Let's see how this might work: A 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV or computer streaming live TV, educational content or movies optimally need a download speed of 25Mbps. HDTV or HD video content requires at least 5 Mbps. This is for each device. Trying to get email attachments, files, photos or videos uploaded for storage, printing or sharing, you will need the highest upload speeds available to get these tasks accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. If you're trying to do ALL of those things at the same time, you are now approaching the need for at least 40Mbps.

The same study showed businesses need at least 100 Mbps speeds because of the file size and quantity, video conferencing, and the extensive use of online applications. This generally applies to businesses on main street, in commercial settings, selected home based businesses, and some telecommuters. With that as the background, it's easy to see we've got some work to do - especially if we want our businesses and schools to be competitive and our online lives at home to be more enjoyable.

Here's a snapshot of what we've been doing together as a region:

  • Pitkin County's consultant has finalized microwave and fiber network designed to link their existing communications towers and to deliver broadband services to more customers in underserved and unserved parts of Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield and Gunnison Counties. This network will also help enhance public safety communications throughout the area.  Pitkin County has submitted a grant application for buildout of three mountaintop microwave system and reconstruction/enhancement of existing county owned tower sites for broadband and DTRS radio sites. The DOLA hearing was held on11/16 and they are awaiting DOLA’s response.
  • Eagle County continues to gain more broadband at very competitive pricing for local governments, ISPs, and businesses to access from a location in Gypsum.
  • Town of Gypsum is working with providers to determine how to leverage affordable middle mile bandwidth that is now installed within the town limits. 
  • Summit County is working with a consultant to determine how best to address the broadband and cell phone coverage deficiencies across the county. Columbia Telecommuncations Consulting completed the final report for Summit County. RFIs for both Fiber to the Premise and Wireless Broadband/Cellular Coverage on posted.  NWCCOG assisted in comments and collaborated on the final work products.
  • Grand County is working with CenturyLink on build-out plans. Mountain Parks Electric is examining whether to become a broadband provider.  The Board of Directors received a broadband consultants report and is working to make a decision in the near future. Nate Walowitz is serving as an independent resource to the MPE board.
  • Towns of Winter Park and Fraser have hired a consultant to assess broadband availability and potential options for their towns. Mountain Parks Electric will be assessing the viability of building out a fiber to the premise broadband network.
  • Jackson County continues to assess the best way for the county to move forward with a broadband plan.
  • Town of Red Cliff tower project is complete for the winter.  Town is meeting with USFS in hopes of having their application for use of Ski Cooper as a relay communications site approved under a CE.
  • NWCCOG Broadband grant application for 2017-2020 Broadband has been submitted to DOLA by Jon Stavney.
  • Routt County BOCC approved funding their project contribution for July 2017 – June 2018.       
  • CenturyLink continues their appeal of the State of Colorado Broadband Deployment Board awards.  This affects the approved radio and site infrastructure for middle and last mile for Red Cliff at the Ski Cooper Site project. 
  • Rio Blanco County is adding paying customers to its fiber optic networks in Meeker and Rangely.  They have also completed their new and upgraded tower sites for balance of the county.  Wireless services will begin from their towers Summer 2017.
  • Routt County continues to build it's fiber optic network to expand affordable, reliable broadband to additional government facilities, Yampa Valley Medical Center, and Yampa Valley Electric.
Please use our speed test and brief online questionnaire to help us document how our providers are doing and where we need to continue to work together to improve broadband in the region. http://maps.co.gov/BroadbandSurvey/ (select the NWCCOG button at the top of the survey) Check out NWCCOG's Broadband monthly updates, future plans and resources for government, industry and individuals at NWCCOG.org. If you have questions, they may be directed to Nate Walowitz, NWCCOG Broadband Coordinator at Nwalowitz@nwccog.org
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