BAYFIELD – Bayfield Town Board members are taking a step toward better broadband, most likely through a public-private partnership.
Many people in the Bayfield area experience poor broadband internet, and the town has been steadily working its way toward an improved broadband plan with contractor HR Green. Town officials hope to have funding, designs and requests for business partnerships completed by December.
“Right now, we didn’t even discuss putting it in the budget,” said Mayor Matt Salka. “I think when we get closer to the end of the year, that will be the potential time where we can say, ‘OK, let’s put it in (the budget).’”
Most participants reported large gaps in satisfaction and frequently interrupted service, according to a 2019 HR Green survey. Many users said their speeds fell below 25 Mbps for downloading content and 3 Mbps for uploading, the minimum speeds to meet the broadband definition set by the Federal Communications Commission.
During Tuesday’s work session, the board considered a completely town-funded option and a public-private partnership option, in which the town would partner with broadband companies. Board members did not vote on the options, but Salka said they leaned toward the public-private plan.
HR Green’s presentation showed the $3 million town-owned network was not feasible and no scenario would create positive cash flow.
“The numbers do not pan out,” Salka said. “We actually agreed before we even saw the numbers. We knew that was going to be a financial drain for the town.”
The $980,000 public-private partnership gives Bayfield the option to install a fiber backbone and then partner with providers to build the “last mile” of remaining infrastructure.
Until December, the town will pursue funding from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Partnering providers could also apply for funding from the Department of Regulatory Agencies.
Those funds can come with additional requirements. For example, although one provider is requesting exclusive access, Bayfield might have to provide companies with open access to receive state funding.
“Competition’s a good thing to help drive the cost down,” Salka said. “In the end, we want the internet to be cheap for our residents.”