Silverton backs stimulus-funded fiber-optic plan

Officials in Silverton are supporting a intergovernmental group aimed at providing broadband Internet service statewide.

Eagle-Net Alliance has come under criticism from small telecommunications providers in rural Colorado that fear their investments in fiber-optic cable could be supplanted by Eagle-Net’s fiber-optic cable, which is financed by a $100 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus.

“As you know, we have long advocated tirelessly for the installation of a fiber-optic line to Silverton. As the last county seat in the state of Colorado without a fiber link, we have pushed, prodded, cajoled, harassed, and begged for various governmental and private entities to bring a fiber-optic line into our community,” Silverton School District Superintendent Kim White, San Juan County Administrator William Tookey and Silverton Administrator Jason Wells wrote to Eagle-Net Alliance in September.

“In our 12 years of advocacy work, Eagle-Net is the only entity that has come forth with both a vision and the funding for a viable solution to our long-standing telecommunications quagmire,” they wrote.

If Eagle-Net indeed comes through with a fiber-optic connection for Silverton, “That’s great,” said Pete Kirchhof, executive director of the Colorado Telecommunications Association. “We hope they follow through on their commitments to Silverton.”

Silverton’s vote of confidence, however, hasn’t reduced some of the skepticism that small telecommunications companies have about its advance, Kirchhof said.

Fears include the possibility that Eagle-Net Alliance fiber-optic cable will duplicate and ultimately drive out of business small providers that have laid fiber-optic cable already at great expense.

Eagle-Net Alliance, however, insists in its outreach letter that it is governed by a “strict set of rules and regulations that guide how and where our network is constructed to avoid overbuilding.”

Eagle-Net Alliance is building a network that will satisfy its grant requirements and improve broadband needs, the outreach letter says.

But what began as a survey of unserved and underserved areas grew to becoming a supplier of communications services and finally to becoming a competitor to many of his member companies, Kirchhof said.

Eagle-Net Alliance remains a “middle-mile” provider, spokeswoman Gretchen Dirks said, linking rural areas to providers, but leaving direct connections to customers to local providers.

The alliance doesn’t “cherry pick” customers, as Kirchhof suggests, Dirks said, because Eagle-Net is building “a sustainable network” serving the entire state.

The problem, Kirchhof said, is that Eagle-Net is serving schools, libraries and government buildings — all generators of significant revenue for providers.

Local companies, meanwhile, are left with serving residential and business customers, or the market with “the highest cost and lowest revenue,” Kirchhof said.


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