Lightning Fiber workers Nathan and Cody

Lightning Fiber workers Nathan and Cody feed optic fiber cables through underground conduit on the Nucla to Norwood link. 

For a businesses like Ruth’s Toffee in Nucla, the arrival of true broadband Internet service is sort of like suddenly having a location on Times Square. Ruth’s markets their products heavily on the Internet. That is a necessity of life since only about a 1000 people inhabit her physical neighborhood. If all goes as planned, Ruth’s and others in Nucla will have access to fiber optic broadband network service in the near future. The fiber optic network in Nucla has been “lit” according to Virgil Turner, the Broadband Project Director for Region 10.

“We are really excited with the recent installation of the equipment in the Nucla area,” Turner told us last week. “Lighting up Nucla was a prerequisite for the extension of the fiber net to Norwood and onward to Telluride.”

The term “lighting up” is quite literal, since once all of the fiber and connecting equipment is installed, light then can be transmitted along the fiber. It is that beam of light that carries the data from point to point. Region 10 spent about $50,000 lighting up the Nucla location, where the fiber has been in place for sometime.

Broadband communication in agricultural areas like Nucla and Norwood might be considered as important as the arrival of electricity to the rural farms and ranches. The fast and reliable connection will be important to others besides e-sellers like the toffee kitchen. The educational system is dependent on the faster connection as a means of broadening the educational opportunities with remote classes and individual instruction. Cattle ranchers can sell their cattle at virtual auctions. Managing cattle herds with chip-embedded ear tags means cutting loses on injured, lost, or sick animals.

“I would have loved to have the kind of cattle monitoring capabilities offered by the Internet,” said cattle producer Buckshot Burbridge. “I lost two cows on the summer range last year ‘cause I couldn’t find them.” Losing two breeding cows is a major financial setback.

The Region 10 network first came to the Western Slope through Grand Junction, then Montrose. Nucla is an extension of the network from Montrose. Soon it will reach Norwood, another 20 miles downstream. Lightning Fiber of Delta presently is working on the link from Nucla to Norwood. The fiber loop eventually will reach Telluride and Mountain Village.

The Nucla/Norwood extension was made possible by a federal grant (Economic Development Administration) and matched by the Telluride Foundation and Clearnetworx. The grant was $760,050 allowing, the group a total of $1.5 million for the loop that runs from Nucla to the Norwood carrier neutral location. Norwood itself was built out with a state grant, county money, and a few other grants, according to Erika Lapsys, Program Director for the Telluride Foundation.

Lapsys says the work that will eventually bring broadband to Telluride is a grassroots program. But that may take a while.

“The Regional Broadband Expansion Project has been a truly unique and grassroots collaborative effort that could not have gone as far as it has without the efforts of the Telluride Foundation, San Miguel County, the town of Norwood, the Telluride and Norwood libraries and school districts, the Telluride and Norwood Medical Centers, and the emergency services in both areas,” she says.

The extension from Norwood to Illium requires the signatures of 49 landowners, most of whom are in agreement with the project. There are some, however, who are looking for higher cash payments for their easements. Lapsys says the project simply can’t afford those fees. The timetable has passed and the extension up the San Miguel canyon and onto to Ilium and Mountain Village is delayed.

Meanwhile, The Nucla Naturita Telephone Company has last mile distribution access to the network. It will be their task to solicit their potential users in the area and provide them with high speed Internet service. The company now provides Internet service to West Montrose County, via its extensive wireless system. Admittedly the service is snail paced compared to the capabilities of the fiber network.

Offering fiber to less than densely populated regions such as Tabeguache Park is not easy. While running fiber to the homes and businesses within the actual town might be economically feasible, running it along country roads where the density may be less than a couple of homes per mile is another story.

Norwood and the rest of the eventual Telluride build out will have Clearnetworx as the Internet service provider. The building of the local fiber network is underway and Clearnetworx plans to deliver fiber broadband to an area that covers virtually all of the Norwood community.

“The Nucla location connects to the larger Region 10 middle-mile network, which has been completed throughout Delta County and eastern Montrose County and Gunnison. We are hoping to extend the network further south to Southwestern Colorado to connect with communities in the region. Eventually we would like to extend the network to Albuquerque,” Turner said.

Region 10 is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization offering public programs in support of eighteen local communities and six counties in Western Colorado of which Montrose and Delta are two. Other than the local network in Olathe, those two counties are now on the network.

Michael A. Cox is a Montrose-based content provider. He may be reached at michaelc@agwriter.us

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