Voqal’s Director of Telecommunications Strategy to Present at Mountain Connect 2018

June 11, 2018

On Wednesday, Voqal’s director of telecommunications strategy, Mark Colwell, will be presenting at Mountain Connect in Vail, Colorado. Mountain Connect is a multiday conference that features some of the leading experts on broadband deployment.

Colwell’s panel focuses on a research project he conducted while studying at the Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder. As part of this project, Colwell and his teammates studied the mountain community of Red Cliff, Colorado. Up until December 2017, Red Cliff residents were some of the 19.3 million Americans living in rural areas with no access to broadband.

Before broadband was deployed, Red Cliff residents could only access the internet via satellite, which has very low data caps, high latency and was very expensive. Residents reported spending $120 to $160 per month for service. In 2014, Red Cliff got serious about attracting a provider. Here’s a brief history of the project:

Municipal Broadband Approval

In order for Red Cliff to pursue a municipal broadband network, the town had to first exempt itself from Senate Bill 152, which is a state law banning Colorado municipalities from owning or operating telecommunications networks. In 2014, Red Cliff voters approved a ballot measure by a vote of 83 to 29, making the town one of the first in Colorado to opt out of the law.

Project Financing

Red Cliff was experiencing financial stress due to a handful of high-interest loans the town had taken out from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development in the previous three decades. Red Cliff was able to refinance these loans, found a new water supplier to lower the town’s water bill, made several budget cuts and even stopped paying its electric bill to save every penny.

Internet Service Provider

FORETHOUGHT.net provided the town with an engineering design plan that was necessary to apply for grant applications. Importantly, FORETHOUGHT.net secured a lease of the Eagle County School District’s Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum license in the 2.5 GHz band, which allowed them to deliver high-capacity 4G LTE fixed service, with speeds up to 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload per subscriber.

State Grant Programs

Red Cliff leveraged two state grant programs to help finance this project. The Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) provided a matching grant, which covered the tower construction in Red Cliff, a portion of the land for the tower and a portion of the trenching at Ski Cooper to bury fiber. The second grant program is overseen by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) and is only available to internet service providers for last-mile projects.

Tower Siting

Two towers were needed: one in Red Cliff to serve residents and one on top of Ski Cooper’s second ski lift motor house for backhaul. The tower at Ski Cooper was connected to CenturyLink via fiber buried into the mountain.

Today in Red Cliff

Today, Red Cliff residents have reported using streaming services, doing homework and participating in digital commerce that was not available just a few months ago. Red Cliff is a key example of how rural schools, in partnership with fixed wireless providers, can deliver broadband to rural communities. These projects not only address the homework gap that so many students face but also tackle the digital divide. The FCC is currently considering opening up more of these frequencies in rural areas for these types of broadband projects. Voqal supports this plan.

For more information on Mark’s panel visit mountainconnect.org.