FORT COLLINS – Larimer County has been awarded a grant of $995,429 from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to bolster the development of middle-mile fiber to Wellington and Masonville. The grant will be pivotal in bridging the digital divide to improve broadband access for both unserved and underserved rural residents in Larimer County.
Larimer County is a generally well-connected region, but some parts of the county have long had inadequate broadband infrastructure and unreliable service, particularly in rural communities outside the main population centers.
The county’s strategic assessment revealed that approximately 1,075 unserved premises within a roughly 3-mile radius around the Wellington area and 596 unserved locations along the Masonville route could benefit significantly from improved connectivity.
In 2018, Platte River’s Board of Directors passed a Resource Diversification Policy, setting a new course for how Platte River provides energy.
These middle-mile fiber projects play a pivotal role in preparing for future connections, although direct service drops to individual premises are not included in this stage. The scope of the projects includes the construction of 107,168 feet of above-ground fiber on existing Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association poles, interconnecting with existing community-owned middle-mile fiber.
While also increasing resiliency for PVREA’s power infrastructure, the Wellington section of the project includes the town and surrounding rural residents and connects with Fort Collins Connexion. The Masonville route will focus on primarily unserved premises along Larimer County Road 27 between U.S. Highway 34 and Masonville, an extension that will create opportunities for future last-mile expansion projects with Loveland Pulse.
Each municipal fiber internet service provider will own and be responsible for constructing,
operating, and maintaining the respective middle-mile fiber. As community-owned assets, the county intends the projects to be sustainable and provide a permanent long-term solution to area connectivity.
“This grant is a critical piece of our strategic plan to bring improved internet access to underserved areas of our community,” said Mark Pfaffinger, support services director and chief information officer for the county. “The middle mile connection is the foundation to connecting homes and positions the community to compete for future grant funds to help build out this critical infrastructure to bring fiber to homes with dramatically improved quality and speeds. Our NOCO Community Fiber partners have made this possible with the collaboration and regional planning that is necessary to solve complex connectivity problems in our region.”
Brieana Reed-Harmel, Pulse fiber manager, added in a prepared statement that “this DOLA grant empowers us to address the urgent need for better broadband connectivity in underserved areas of our county community. The Wellington and Masonville Middle-Mile Fiber project is a crucial step toward achieving a long-term solution to the goal of connecting every urban, suburban and rural resident to high-speed internet and bridging the digital divide.”
A key element of these middle-mile projects is the partnership with NOCO Community Fiber, a collaboration between Larimer County, the municipal fiber providers of Loveland Pulse, Fort Collins Connexion and Estes Park Trail Blazer, and the electric utilities of PVREA and the Platte River Power Authority.
“Connexion is excited to continue our collaboration with Larimer County and Loveland Pulse to provide lightning-fast, reliable internet speeds with amazing customer service to all of those in Larimer County,” said Chad Crager, Connexion Broadband executive director. “We believe that a great internet experience is the foundation for the future of innovation and collaboration in this region.”
The collaboration has already spurred the extension of community-owned fiber from Livermore to Red Feather Lakes by Connexion, extensions from Drake to the Sylvan Dale area by Pulse, and more, creating mutually beneficial projects and elevating broadband services for underserved rural regions in the county. The DOLA grant comes as a critical financial boost and allows Larimer County to pursue its broadband goals while remaining sustainable. Without grant funding, the projects’ costs would have exceeded available local funding.
The county’s general fund has allocated funds to match the grant.