Dolores County delivers Internet

Steps in after group fails to make progress

Dolores County Commissioner Ernie Williams helped get a fiber-optic line to schools in Dove Creek. New high-speed wireless Internet went live in the schools and courthouse in Dove Creek about a month ago. Enlargephoto

Mary Shinn/Cortez Journal

Dolores County Commissioner Ernie Williams helped get a fiber-optic line to schools in Dove Creek. New high-speed wireless Internet went live in the schools and courthouse in Dove Creek about a month ago.

Dolores County dedicated extra money and resources to bring Dove Creek schools high speed Internet after the organization in charge of the project failed to make significant progress.

High-speed Internet went live about a month ago at the Dove Creek high school, middle school, elementary school and the Dolores County courthouse. The teachers have been able to integrate the iPads and smart boards that the district had already purchased into their lessons, Superintendent Bruce Hankins said.

“It’s been an amazing transformation,” he said.

A federally funded project run by a the quasi-government entity EAGLE-Net had been working to bring fiber optics lines to the school for several years, and Hankins said he had been given dozens of deadlines for the project’s completion.

“I’ve been told for two years, we’d be connected next month,” he said.

EAGLE-Net was awarded a $100.6 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant in September 2010 from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to connect Colorado schools to better Internet services. The NTIA suspended EAGLE-Net’s grant in late 2012 for environmental-compliance issues. The suspension was lifted in April 2013. A request for comment from Affiniti, the company that is now managing EAGLE-Net, was not returned by press time.

About three years ago, Dolores county commissioner Ernie Williams began trying to organize EAGLE-Net’s efforts to bring fiber to the schools and a state grant for almost $100,000 to bring fiber to Dove Creek government buildings. The state grant had to be used by December 2013.

He started looking for an alternative solution when it seemed to him EAGLE-Net wouldn’t finish the project. EAGLE-Net was supposed to bring a fiber optic line down Highway 491 into Dove Creek, but it was never completed.

“There was nothing happening,” Williams said.

So Williams reached out to Doug Pace, the general manager of Farmers Telephone Co., a local provider.

Farmers had already laid a fiber optic line along Road 12 that dead-ended in preparation for future growth. Farmers and Dolores County worked together to extend Farmers’ fiber along Road 12 to Road J. To complete the four miles along Road J into town, the county bought fiber from EAGLE-Net and picked it up in Colorado Springs. In the final stage – from the end of town to the school – county and EAGLE-Net fiber were laid in one conduit.

“We’re piecemealing this and horse trading every bit of the way,” Williams said of the negotiations to complete the project.

Williams said negotiating through the lawyers so all interested parties – Farmers, EAGLE-Net, and Dolores County public buildings – could share the new lines was the most time-consuming part. Even now, negotiations aren’t complete.

Currently, Farmers is transmitting wireless Internet from the Dolores County courthouse to the schools, which are all on the same street. EAGLE-Net owns the 25 feet of fiber directly into a school building but an agreement about the use of the line hasn’t been reached.

Overall, the county spent an extra $15,000 on the project outside of matching funds the state grant required. This does not include the time the county crews spent helping to lay down the lines.

The administration building for the town and the public in general doesn’t yet have access to the faster Internet. But the excess Internet could be sold to the general public if a provider leased the access from the town. The current infrastructure could easily serve a town much larger than Dove Creek, Williams said.

“If you only build for what you have today, you’re behind for the future,” Williams said.

mshinn@cortezjournal.com

Dolores County Commissioner Ernie Williams stands next to a utility box in front of a school in Dove Creek on Main Street. New high speed wireless Internet went live in the Dove Creek schools and courthouse about a month ago. But negotiations are still pending on use of the fiber optic line that runs from where Williams is standing to a school building behind him. Enlargephoto

Mary Shinn/Cortez Journal

Dolores County Commissioner Ernie Williams stands next to a utility box in front of a school in Dove Creek on Main Street. New high speed wireless Internet went live in the Dove Creek schools and courthouse about a month ago. But negotiations are still pending on use of the fiber optic line that runs from where Williams is standing to a school building behind him.