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Cortez announces new broadband pilot program

Project could help city provide internet services
Councilman Bob Archibeque examines a GigaCenter at the Cortez council workshop on March 13.

The city of Cortez may soon roll out a pilot program designed to bring more affordable internet services to residents.

At a City Council workshop on Tuesday, general services director Rick Smith announced his plan to test the feasibility of the city becoming an internet services provider. Right now, the city has installed fiber networks in several areas, but relies on outside service providers to connect businesses to the internet. Smith said the pilot project’s goal would be to find out whether it is feasible for the city to provide its own internet services to more people.

City Manager Shane Hale said the staff is exploring alternatives to the city’s current open access network, which connects all the government buildings and many of the businesses in town to high-speed internet, with the help of providers like Fast Track Communications and Data Safe Services. But finding private businesses willing to provide internet services to residential areas has been more tricky, he said, because of the amount of maintenance involved.

“We found that there were very few providers that actually wanted to go Fiber to the Home,” he said. “Homeowners are a lot of work.”

He said the city already provides some organizations, like the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District and Southwest Memorial Hospital, with its own direct fiber network. While he said the government will probably stay with its open access network for the rest of the city, the pilot program could expand the number of people on the direct network.

Smith suggested a new technology, devices called GigaCenters, could help with that goal. Gigacenters can connect to a wireless network without the need for electronics outside the building, he said, which makes them easier and cheaper for service providers to maintain. He suggested placing the devices in a few commercial and residential buildings to test how well they work.

“We need to get a real-world experience so we can understand what it’s really going to take to run that network,” he said.

City Council members were mostly in favor of the idea, but some of them raised questions about how the pilot would be implemented. Mayor Pro Tem Ty Keel asked how Smith would decide who participates in the pilot program.

It will be limited to areas that already have fiber installed, Smith said, but he added that he already knows of several people and businesses who want to be a part of it.

City attorney Mike Green asked about potential legal issues with the program, and urged Smith to put a detailed plan, including his department’s price model, in writing before it starts. He said that would help the city avoid claims of favoritism or unfairness.

Smith said he was considering a price model that would offer 100 mbps of bandwidth for $60, but he didn’t offer many details about who would qualify for the program or how long it would last.

Mayor Karen Sheek said she hoped the program would lead to the city taking a more active role in internet services.

“I’m so glad that we’ve reached this point, because for a long time, I’ve felt that the city should be an ISP,” she said.

She and Smith both said they believed the city, which wouldn’t need to make a profit from the service, could offer cheaper internet than most other providers. Smith said the pilot program will reveal whether it can offer those services to all residents, or just a few.

Other action

Also during Tuesday’s workshop, the City Council:

Turned down a request for funds from the Mancos Future Farmers of America chapter.Agreed to include the cost of the city’s new entryway signs and a new salt shed near the Cortez Service Center on the city’s revised 2018 budget. Hale said the expenses, which total $50,000 and $110,000 respectively, were left off the budget by mistake.Agreed to award $750 to Habitat for Humanity of Montezuma County to help cover the permit fees for building its first new home in Cortez.Agreed to allow the Montezuma Community Economic Development Association to serve alcohol, in accordance with city regulations, at an April 24 conference it plans to hold in City Hall.

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