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NTIA suspends EAGLE-Net Alliance's middle mile project

Agency said issues are environmental, not competition-related
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The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on Thursday voted to temporarily halt  Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) funding for EAGLE-Net Alliance's (ENA) middle mile network build that will serve a mix of local schools, universities, hospitals throughout Colorado.

"Yesterday, EAGLE-Net Alliance was instructed by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) to temporarily suspend current construction activity while we provide them additional information about our project," said ENA in a statement. "We take this very seriously and are working closely with the NTIA to provide this information in order to resume construction as quickly as possible."

ENA maintains that the delay will have little, if any effect, on their buildout plans.

"Our current customers and community anchor institutions will not be impacted," ENA said. "Although construction has been temporarily postponed, it was already winding down for the 2012 build schedule. Our non-construction related operations will not be affected."

Cody Wertz, an EAGLE-Net spokesman, added that the "alliance will continue to provide service to customers where Internet already has been set up."

To build the statewide fiber network, the alliance is working with local service provider partners such as Zayo, a competitive dark fiber provider that is providing almost 700 route miles of fiber in Colorado and Wyoming.

EAGLE-NET network map

Network map of EAGLE-Net in Colorado. Green=completed network; blue=under development; red=future development. (Source: ENA)

EAGLE-net's middle mile network has not been without controversy.

A number of competitors, including incumbent telcos and cable operators, argued that that EAGLE-Net is overbuilding in areas of Colorado that already have enough broadband access.

Likewise, various Republican leaders, including Rep. Cory Gardner, said that it was unfair that EAGLE-Net was getting government funding to build out service in areas where other privately-owned service providers already provide service today.

"Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize a program that is putting Colorado's rural telecom industry out of business," Gardner said in September.

Despite these charges, Anthony Wilhelm, BTOP program director, said that the suspension was related environmental concerns.

"EAGLE-Net has made considerable progress in achieving its objectives to construct a statewide high-speed broadband network to connect schools and libraries across Colorado," said Wilhelm in a statement. "However, NTIA has suspended the project and required EAGLE-Net to stop work in order to address concerns about its adherence to environmental and cultural resources requirements. Our expectation is that ENA will resolve these issues so that the project can quickly resume and continue to deliver broadband benefits to communities statewide."

According to an unnamed source cited by Broadcasting & Cable, was that ENA may be building its network facilities on routes that were not analyzed in its environmental impact study. The source added that when it did not receive the answers it was looking for, it decided to suspend the project.

EAGLE-Net is not the only BTOP-funded middle mile project that's come under fire since the program began making grant awards in 2010. Similar projects in Richmond, Calif. and Louisiana faced NTIA scrutiny over not providing proper information to the NTIA about financial and buildout timelines.

For more:
- North Colorado Business Report has this article
- Broadcasting & Cable has this article

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Related articles:
EAGLE-Net: We're not overbuilding in Colorado
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