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Apr 18th, 2019

Town of Vail opts into Project THOR to enhance regional broadband service

VAIL — It's going to take some time, but faster internet service could be coming to Vail and much of the valley.

The Vail Town Council heard a presentation about the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments' Project THOR on Tuesday, a regional effort to improve broadband service in the region.

The project essentially loops around the northwest part of the state, from Clear Creek County on the east to Moffat County on the northwest. The project also includes Pitkin County.

The hope is for the system to reach roughly 20% of the state's land mass. About 230,000 people live in that area.

Along the Interstate 70 corridor, THOR will use fiber-optic cable owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Communities off the interstate corridor will run at about half the speed.

While participating communities will be able to tap into the system, individuals won't have access to the full-bandwidth system until a local internet service provider taps in.

Those providers will access the system through “Meet Me” centers established by community partners.

Nate Walowitz, the council of governments' regional broadband program director, told council members the project was jump-started by a $1-million infrastructure grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The same department also recently provided a $270,000 grant to pay for access to CDOT's fiber.

Walowitz told council members that the council of governments has decided the project will be “revenue neutral” in its first years. But local governments still need to chip in.

In Vail, that means the town will pay $75,000 in start-up costs, along with about $7,900 per month. T.J. Johnson, Vail's information technology director, said the monthly costs will handle ongoing maintenance.

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the town's participation in the system.

While there are up-front and continuing costs, Johnson said the town expects to recoup some of those costs in the near future, presumably by charging providers for access to the high-speed system.

Once in place, the system will boost speeds for home users, and it will enable cell phone carriers to provide 5G service — the next level of cell service — to customers.

“The long-term benefits are pretty extensive,” Johnson said.

Walowitz said Breckenridge and Summit County are already anticipating growing demand for the high-speed service. He said those communities already are planning for a tenfold speed increase in the near future.

As demand grows, Mayor Dave Chapin said the town needs to have plenty of server space at Vail's planned Meet Me center in the West Vail fire station.

Johnson said server modules are fairly small, so space for more won't be a problem.

Vail and other participating communities will all be part of a council that oversees the service, Johnson said, adding that the council of governments will hand off ownership of the system to that council.

Chapin said the system is a great example of regional cooperation and credited the council of governments for facilitating the deal. And, he added, Vail is going to need higher-speed service, and soon.

“It's where the future's going,” Chapin said.

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