EAGLE-Net: We're not overbuilding in Colorado

The EAGLE-Net Alliance (ENA), an "intergovernmental" cooperative building a middle mile network to deliver optical services to local government agencies, hospitals, libraries and schools, on Monday refuted arguments that it is overbuilding in markets where there's already a broadband service provider present.

The cooperative said in an e-mail newsletter that it "is not competing against local service providers for business, residential or commercial customers," but added that "[w]e must compete fairly with other providers to enable broadband service options to governmental entities."

A number of area cable operators and telcos, including Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), said ENA's effort to sell services to anchor institutions is nothing more than a means to "cherry pick" their school and library customers.

At issue is a $100.6 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) that ENA won from the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2010. To build the statewide fiber network, the alliance is working with local partners such as Zayo, a competitive dark fiber provider that is providing almost 700 route miles of fiber in both Colorado and Wyoming.

Existing service providers said they don't think the government should fund service providers to overbuild their markets, but rather should focus their attention on markets that can't get access to any broadband service at all.

ENA maintains that the BTOP grant has "a strict set of rules and regulations that guide how and where our network is constructed to avoid overbuilding" and its mission is to "create a statewide network that provides access where there is not adequate or affordable infrastructure."

One town that's been traditionally overlooked in the state's broadband race has been Silverton, Co. At issue is a $37 million contract mandating that Qwest--now CenturyLink--had to bring fiber-based connections to every county seat by the end of June 2005, but the service provider said it could not obtain the necessary rights of way to reach the mountain town.

A judge in 2011 ruled that the service provider did not have to provide a 16-mile fiber network extension to the town. As an alternative, CenturyLink provided the town with a microwave relay service, which area businesses say struggles to keep up with basic activities like credit card transactions during the Fourth of July holiday weekend every year.    

Given its experience with CenturyLink, Silverton's town leaders were, not surprisingly, concerned EAGLE-Net would overlook them. EAGLE-Net maintains that they will eventually reach Silverton and other communities in the state.

But after speaking with EAGLE-Net, representatives from the Silverton School District, San Juan County and the Town of Silverton said in a letter that despite having a number of logistical and technical issues to resolve, they are in favor of ENA's work.|

"[W]hile we are sure a myriad of unanswered questions and host of logistical and technical complications remain, we would like to continue to offer our unyielding support to Eagle Net in whatever form that may take as your organization continues in good faith to move forward with bringing expanded connectivity to our community and broader region," the community leaders wrote.  

For more:
- see the EAGLE-Net
- see the Silverton letter
- Broadcasting and Cable has this article

Related articles:
CenturyLink wins battle against Silverton, CO over fiber network
Colorado town fights Qwest for fiber
Zayo adds 162 miles of fiber to EAGLE-Net's Colorado network footprint
Zayo lights up new fiber capacity for EAGLE-Net Alliance