Delta and Montrose counties elevate their internet game

Monday, Feb. 5, 2018 5:53 PM
From left, Cody Clawson, Rhett Chesnik and Myles Cumpston connect a home in Paonia to Elevate Fiber broadband internet service for Hotchkiss-based Lightworks.

Elevate Fiber began with a lot of griping by folks in Delta and Montrose counties who were sick of buffering interruptions while trying to stream their Netflix favorites.

Along the way, Becky Mashburn, marketing communications manager for Elevate Fiber and its parent company, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, said community leaders realized that buffering issues was not a trivial issue in keeping their economy vibrant.

“If you don’t have high-speed internet, you’re behind. You’re behind in education. You’re behind economically. You’re behind in medicine. You’re behind in communication,” Mashburn said. “The internet is part of our daily life. It’s part of the infrastructure.

“We had to ask ourselves: Can we support the type of workers who want to live where they want? Can we support the type of services they will want to bring their talents and services here, where they will be building and spending in our community? This is not something you can continue to ignore.”

The 75-year-old model of the humble electric cooperative, Mashburn said, proved the ideal structure to piggyback Delta and Montrose’s fledgling effort to improve their internet after efforts to attract a private firm to provide fiber-to-home internet failed to attract interest.

Elevate Fiber was formed in June 2016. By October 2016, it was installing its first fiber-to-home link. As of Friday, Elevate had connected 2,500 homes and businesses to fiber optics lines in Paonia, Hotchkiss, Cedar Ridge, Orchard City and Montrose.

The hardest thing now for Elevate Fiber is to contain potential customers’ expectations, she said, noting the Elevate Fiber anticipates it will be six years before it can reach all the practical areas in its territory to provide fiber to homes.

“So many parts of our territory were served with very slow internet at very high prices or they simply had no service at all,” Mashburn said.

Fiber optics lines, she said, proved the only reliable way to maintain reliable, high-speed internet, given the area’s rugged topography and lack of line-of-sight connections, which is common in Colorado’s foothills, valleys and mountains.

Elevate Fiber, a for-profit company, is charging $49.95 per month for 100 megabytes per second (mbps) fiber to home hookups and $79.95 for 1 gigabyte per second hookups. In addition, customers must also pay a one-time $100 installation fee.

The firm chooses which areas to expand to based on a crowd-sourcing model, with people interested in receiving fiber-to-home registering with Elevate, and when a critical mass of interest is reached in an area, the firm begins a project to hook up the neighborhood homes with fiber optics.

Elevate Fiber, she said, relies on Delta-Montrose Electric’s poles, lines and underground infrastructure to spread fiber optics as well as the parent company’s rights-of-way, but she said electric rates to homeowners do not subsidize Elevate Fiber’s operations.

The problem now is everyone knows someone with high-speed internet and they wonder when their turn will come.

“Somebody’s got to be the lucky person who got it first, and somebody’s got to be the lucky, but-not-so-lucky, person who gets it last,” she said