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Middle mile can be a matter of life and depth


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Charlie Ban

County News Digital Editor & Senior Writer

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County Countdown – Nov. 20, 2023

Durango, Colo., La Plata County's seat.

Key Takeaways

While some remote regions manage to have broadband access, they still live precariously, relying on vulnerable connections to the outside world. Southwestern Colorado is one such region, where interrupted service could leave residents not only without connectivity for business and recreation, but for emergencies.

When the installation process for guardrails along a road in La Plata County severed the one and only fiber line, it interrupted not just internet service, but cell phone and landline service for one-quarter of the county and all of neighboring Archuleta County.

“There’s no redundancy there whatsoever,” said La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka. “If someone wanted to call 911, they couldn’t, either with their phone or their home phone.”

The two counties partnered with the Southern Ute tribe and the La Plata Electric Association, with all parties contributing $500,000 to match a $2 million Department of Local Affairs Mineral Impact Grant. That $4 million is funding the installation of a second fiber line, which, in addition to offering a backup to the La Plata County seat of Durango, will expand access for the tribe.

“Our main focus is being able to address the redundancy issue, to make sure that when someone needs help, they can call 911,” Salka said. “There is a huge redundancy gap in the state of Colorado, almost three-fourths of the state of Colorado.”

He noted that Archuleta County lost service three times in the first 10 months of 2023.

“We all want high speed Internet, we want HD Netflix to be able to watch on our TV, but for the commissioners of both counties, our major concern is making sure that our phones work when we need them.”

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