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Avon plans to join THOR public broadband network project

There are 14 communities that are currently part of Project THOR, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments midstream network that brings broadband to rural Colorado.
Northwest Colorado Council of Governments/Courtesy Photo

The Avon City Council plans to join Project THOR, a government-owned regional network bringing broadband to rural Colorado, to improve access and lower the cost of high-quality broadband in the city. At Tuesday’s council meeting, the city invited representatives from local broadband providers and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments to get a better idea of ​​the current services available and consider whether to invest in the new Broadband utility is a worthwhile expense.

Private progress

Comcast is the largest broadband provider in the city of Avon, with a network that spans the entire city. Andy Davis, director of regulatory and government affairs at Comcast, provided an overview of the company’s services in the region.

He shared that Comcast has invested $1.3 billion in improving Colorado’s networks over the past three years, and their fiber-based service now offers speeds of up to 1.2 gigabits to everyone. its users at Avon.

Asked about barriers to affordability, Davis highlighted the company’s Internet Essentials plans, which, together with the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, provide income-eligible homes with free 100/10 Mbps service. He also said the prices for services on the West Rim are the same as the Front Range.

Davis’ argument before the board was that with a private company already making substantial progress in quality and accessibility, why use government resources to achieve the same result?

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“We can do what we can do, and that’s invest in the technology that we provide at no cost to the taxpayer,” Davis said. “I think that’s one of the things that cities really need to think about: is the financial risk worth it when you have the level of private sector investment that’s happening.”

A voice at the table

Following Davis, two representatives from the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments presented the benefits of Project THOR, a new telecommunications network launching in 2020 comprised of more than 400 miles of existing public and private fiber.

The THOR project was created in response to internet outages in rural areas that could not be repaired quickly by providers due to the hard-to-reach locations of rural mountain communities. It has also created the opportunity to extend services to smaller communities that may not be commercially attractive to private companies, but which local governments believe should have Internet access as a utility rather than a luxury.

One of the main advantages of using a state-funded regional entity is the ability for municipalities to have a say in how service is maintained and extended in the region, rather than rely on the business decisions of private companies.

“If you look at the business model of serving these small communities, when you look at the distances to serve them versus what you could earn, are you going to invest in Front Range, or Dallas, or wherever, or are you going to invest in these small communities? said John Stavney, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “It’s very easy to see that the business model is not working easily.”

“If you join the THOR project, you will have a voice at the table. You will be able to meet all your needs,” said Nathan Walowitz, THOR project manager.

It would cost the city about $375,000 to join the THOR project in the first year, plus $170,000 each year going forward.

Council members noted that many of the challenges faced by small rural communities in Colorado are not significant in Avon. A survey of the city’s broadband services, completed last month, showed that coverage is not universal, but access and service levels are high.

The results of this survey, coupled with their personal experiences with Internet service in the city, caused a number of board members to question the benefits of joining THOR.

“I have a hard time seeing what our motivation is,” said board member RJ Andrade. “My internet is now much better than it was 10 years ago, which leads me to believe that 10 years from now it will be much better. Why shouldn’t I just get out of the way and let this happen? »

“I don’t know if we’re solving anything, to be honest,” agreed board member Lindsay Hardy. “I have amazing service, and I can’t bear to spend so much money with so many annual fees when it could be a new snowplow, it could be a more restricted accommodation by deed, it could be the funding we desperately need for affordable housing on Swift Gulch.

The board identified two benefits that made THOR attractive to Avon, namely increasing competition to reduce costs and creating redundancy to maintain service operations in the event of a system failure. Dependence on internet services will only grow in the years to come, and it could benefit the city to stay ahead of growing demand.

“I think we owe it to our city to treat it as essential as it is, which feels more like a public utility than just a private business,” said board member Tamra Underwood. “Comcast has done a great job in this city, but I think we’re at a point in the evolution of this technology where we need to be involved in some way to provide alternatives for our ratepayers in the town.”

No decision has been made on the city’s broadband plan, and the council has called for additional briefings before deciding whether or not to join THOR.