Mountain Parks Electric to build fiber-optic backbone for internet service |

Mountain Parks Electric to build fiber-optic backbone for internet service

Mountain Parks Electric, with its headquarters in Granby, could become Grand County's newest internet service provider. Though it's not finalized yet, Mountain Parks called the tentative plan a response to the wide gap in quality for area internet service.

Mountain Parks Electric announced this week that they intend to build the backbone of a fiber-optic, high-speed internet network following two feasibility studies and a series of 400 interviews with members.

The backbone, also referred to as a middle-mile system, is meant to allow existing internet providers to improve retail internet services in the area via the increased bandwidth capacity, and improve Mountain Parks Electric's electric utility operations through enhancing electric equipment monitoring, minimizing the length of power outages, and positioning MPE to be able to adopt new technologies that may help manage future wholesale power costs.

"Over the past year and a half Mountain Parks Electric has heard from many of its members about the growing need for high-speed internet service," said Tom Sifers, general manager at Mountain Parks Electric. "It affects everything from the ability to conduct business, to retaining and attracting new businesses, to real estate values, to the quality of life of homeowners, tourists and full-time residents. All of this, directly and indirectly, impacts the local economy."

Mountain Parks Electric reached out to 400 of their members randomly for phone interviews, and 87 percent of respondents noted that low-cost, high-speed internet is "very important to the future of the local economy."

The MPE Board of Directors called for two feasibility studies, which revealed that a retail broadband "last-mile" venture would cost an estimated $95 million to form, construct, and operate, exacerbated by the areas rugged retain and relatively sparse population. MPE serves 11 costumers per mile of electric service.

A middle-mile system is essentially the segment of the network that connects between the core network and last mile providers. Last-mile refers to the segment of the network that actually delivers telecommunication services to the customers. This means that the backbone will not directly be going to customers, but will allow internet service providers to improve their service.

The MPE Board of Directors, noting the incredibly high capital investment needed for a last-mile system, along with an estimated take rate of only 45 percent, opted for the middle-mile system instead. The backbone investment is not expected to have a significant impact on MPE's electrical rates or financing.

"Taking this step to construct the middle-mile allows for more time to work with the communities and counties in our service area that have opted out of Colorado Senate Bill 152," said Sifers. "This creates a possibility going forward for public-private partnerships. We also are hearing more talk from our state and federal governments about new rural broadband grant funds. Taking this step now puts Mountain Parks Electric in a shovel-ready position to react if these opportunities come to fruition."

Colorado Senate Bill 152 is a measure that was passed in 2005, which effectively bans local governments from providing any kind of television or internet service. At least 98 communities across Colorado have already voted to end the restriction, according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

The project is expected to take one-to-two years to complete, but for many it's a growing necessity.

"Our members have relayed these accessibility concerns in emails, phone calls, online surveys and even in person at monthly board meetings and our annual meeting," said Sifers. "The feedback they consistently provided was that high-speed internet access is sporadic in this area, and in many cases inadequate."