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CenturyLink describes efforts to improve regional internet

Company and local governments might partner on projects
The Southwest Colorado Council of Governments met with CenturyLink representatives Thursday to talk about how the company is using federal grant money to improve internet service across the region.

Efforts to improve rural internet service across the region are underway, but not all residents are experiencing better service.

CenturyLink received $159 million in federal funding to improve internet service to 50,000 areas across the state. The Federal Communications Commission identified areas in need of better infrastructure based on how much customers pay for internet service in a census block, an area defined by the federal government for collecting census data.

In 2015 and 2016, the company improved service to 28,066 areas across the state, including 3,669 areas in Southwest Colorado, said Abel Chavez, CenturyLink’s director of local government affairs. He told a gathering of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments on Thursday that an additional 2,227 areas in the region have seen improved service as a result of the work. In many areas, the company is installing fiber-optic lines, he said.

The state did not provide funding for all 80,000 areas that could use infrastructure improvements, and company officials asked if local governments would be willing to partner on projects.

Archuleta County Commissioner Michael Whiting said that public-private partnerships are necessary to improve service and asked company officials to describe a potential partnership. He also called for clear communication near the end of a tense meeting.

“It’s going to require a fundamentally new relationship between all of us, a far more transparent and frank relationship,” he said.

Chavez said governments could provide funding, streamline the permitting process for construction in public rights of way and promote the use of broadband because maintaining it requires subscribers.

Tim Kunkleman, CenturyLink’s regulatory director for the state, said the company would be willing to share maps of its infrastructure to determine where it might make sense to work together to fill infrastructure gaps.

Lightner Creek Road residents Bonnie Brennan and Pattie Adler spoke about CenturyLink’s gradually deteriorating internet service over the last few months. Brennan said company representatives had tried to repair it, but she was still unable to use the internet.

“They give me a new modem. It does no good at all, and it’s getting worse,” she said.

Company representatives did not directly talk about service in the Lightner Creek Road area, but Chavez said solving access problems across the state would require investment from other internet providers.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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