Dove Creek, a rural town near the Utah border north of Cortez, could be the first town in Southwest Colorado with fiber-optic lines to the doorstep of homes and businesses.
Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner announced this week that Emery Telecom, a Utah-based nonprofit co-op, will receive $2.7 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to put in the fiber-optic lines. The infrastructure will serve 528 households, 20 farms and ranches and 15 small businesses, as well as the fire department, Dolores County Sheriff’s Office and schools in and around Dove Creek, according to the USDA.
Dolores County Commissioner Floyd Cook said the faster internet service could provide business opportunities to the community of about 630 people and allow more residents to work remotely. The high-speed internet service could also speed everyday transactions, such as paying for gas, he said.
“It’s the best thing since pockets on a shirt,” Cook said.
The only institutions currently with high-speed internet service in Dove Creek are the Dolores County Courthouse and the Dove Creek high school, middle school and elementary school.
Emery Telecom CEO Brock Johansen said the project will get started as soon as possible and must be completed within five years, although it will likely be finished sooner, he said.
The co-op is matching the federal grant with $1 million to complete the project and meet demand for internet service in the area, he said.
“We get a lot of requests for service out near the state line,” he said.
Putting in fiber-optic lines makes sense because they are now cost-competitive with copper lines, he said. The equipment sending information across the fiber-optic lines can also be updated and allow the same lines to carry more information in the future as the demand for faster more robust internet service increases, he said.
“Once it’s in place, it’s future proof,” he said.
When Emery Telecom puts in a new high-speed internet connection from Monticello to Dove Creek to serve homes and businesses, it will be a step forward for regional internet connectivity, said Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments. The council includes governments across Southwest Colorado, such as Dolores and La Plata counties.
The region has a limited number of internet lines delivering service from outside the region, which can cause problems for communities when fiber-optic lines are damaged, Gillow-Wiles said.
Internet went down in Silverton for a day in August when a line was damaged, cutting internet and cellphone service, she said.
In 2016, a cut fiber-optic line in Cortez interrupted service to 911 dispatch centers in La Plata, Archuleta and Montezuma counties, and in Ignacio and Telluride.
A line from Monticello to Dove Creek would be a step toward continuous high-speed internet infrastructure from Pagosa Springs to Salt Lake City that could back up infrastructure lines that run south and north, Gillow-Wiles said.
“It creates a much more secure and redundant network for the region,” she said.
A connection from Monticello to Salt Lake City is already established. But infrastructure between Cortez and Dove Creek needs to be improved, she said.
The new connection between Monticello and Dove Creek will also allow Emery to connect to fiber-optic infrastructure in Cahone that connects to Grand Junction. The connection to Grand Junction will create network reliability for residents in Dove Creek and southeast Utah, Johansen said.
“It leverages the Colorado network and the Utah network. ... That middle mile is what makes this project so valuable,” he said.
The Southwest Council of Governments is also working on an engineering plan to better connect internet infrastructure among Cortez, Shiprock, Kirtland, Aztec and La Plata County, she said.
Bringing modern internet infrastructure to rural Southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico requires millions in public funding because the return on investment is too low to allow private businesses to do it alone, she said. However, the investment is necessary, just as electrifying remote and rural homes was necessary, she said.
“Everyone, regardless if you live in a small town in western Colorado or a large municipality on one of the coasts, deserves to have access to affordable, abundant connectivity,” Gillow-Wiles said.