ON 05-13-17, AT MOUNTAIN PARKS ELECTRIC’s (MPE’s) ANNUAL MEETING, General Manager Tom Sifers reported that – according to a recent feasibility study – 40 percent of the MPE membership want better broadband service. That’s a significant number. Interpreting this as a quality of life issue, and an economic development issue, the MPE Board of Directors (BOD) has discussed whether or not to become an Internet Service Provider (ISP) at length at recent board meetings.
“There is a wide gap in the quality and speed of internet service throughout rural Colorado,” Sifers said. “Some electric cooperatives are filling that gap.” To date, three Colorado rural electric co-ops are actively engaged as ISPs. And two more are now considering it. During an audience poll at the annual meeting, 153 of the 187 registered attendees (82 percent) indicated that they would support MPE continuing to pursue the ISP business opportunity.
The first step in MPE’s broadband investigation was hiring Uptown Services to perform a feasibility study last fall. The study identified project installation and operating costs and a projected 40-percent take rate. It also estimated a 15-year payback from internet subscriptions for the required capital investment.
On May 11, the MPE BOD, taking a cautious approach, approved the issuance of a request for proposal for engineering services to design only the backbone infrastructure first for a fiber-optic communication network system for MPE. In the meantime, the BOD continues to investigate MPE’s potential role in helping close the gap in internet service throughout its service territory – whether that means simply building a broadband backbone and working with existing area ISPs or offering last-mile service.