Should Local Governments Build and Own Broadband Infrastructure?

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This is a guest post by Bayfield, Colo. Mayor Rick Smith.

The San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. (photo: Ed Cooley)

With less revenue, municipalities across the country are being asked to do more. While continually providing water, sewer and transportation services to their constituents, many communities are discovering a new infrastructure is being added to the list – broadband.

The southwest Colorado region is made up of five counties and 11 municipalities. It became apparent to these governmental entities that they were paying more for broadband services than their counterparts in urban Colorado. Upon further investigation, it also became apparent that the smaller, more rural communities had few options when it came to broadband service providers.

Regional map of Southwest Colorado
Regional map of Southwest Colorado. (photo: SWCCOG)

These southwest Colorado governments joined together to form the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG). The initial emphasis of the council was to address the gap in broadband service. The SWCCOG’s vision was to build a robust regional network that would allow the counties and municipalities to streamline their broadband costs while increasing bandwidth for their residents. An added goal was to build the network in a manner that allowed the governments to communicate and share data with each other more effectively in the future.

An engineering study was commissioned to determine the current state of broadband infrastructure across the region. The engineers also sought to develop a picture of what a network might look like if all the government buildings within a city or county were connected in a small network, and then each of the small networks were connected to form the larger regional network.

Armed with this information, the SWCCOG sent a small contingency to Denver to request funding for this initiative from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DoLA). The project was approved for full funding at $3,000,000 with an additional $1,000,000 in local match. With this funding, the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments launched a three-year broadband initiative: the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN).

The Southwest Colorado Access Network had four main objectives:

  • Install broadband infrastructure (fiber-optic and/or wireless) connecting government buildings in the various SWCCOG communities.
  • Design and install a regional component whereby these small networks could be joined together to create a large regional network.
  • Build redundancy into the regional network so as to minimize the risk of loss of Internet access for the SWCCOG members.
  • Ensure the sustainability of the network.
The Southwest Colorado Access Network
The Southwest Colorado Access Network. (photo: SWCCOG)

The SCAN initiative took three and a half years to complete – and, thanks to the forward-thinking perspective of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments, the project had many positive outcomes:

  • Each SWCCOG member was able to implement or improve broadband access for itself and its residents.
  • Partnerships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) resulted in lower per-megabyte costs for broadband services.
  • A regional network involving public/public, public/private and private/private partnerships was created.
  • County and municipal governments worked closely with each other to connect their smaller networks to the larger regional network (La Plata assisted Bayfield, Cortez assisted Dolores and Mancos, Montezuma assisted Dolores, etc.).

The Southwest Colorado Access Network was successfully implemented, and the SWCCOG hit its target of improved broadband service throughout the region at a lower cost. The most surprising outcome of this collaborative effort was the number of newly-forged private/private partnerships between ISPs. These partnerships resulted in significantly lower broadband costs not only for the local governments, but for their residents as well – a win-win scenario for the entire southwest Colorado region.

Mayor Rick SmithAbout the Author: As Mayor of Bayfield, Colo., Dr. Rick Smith was appointed to the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG) and in 2010 was elected Board Chairman. During his tenure on the SWCCOG Board, he successfully presented the $4.3 million Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN) project to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DoLA).