The city of Cortez on Dec. 5 issued a request for proposals seeking a qualified fiber-to-home company to partner with the city to deliver a fiber optic internet connection to all homes and businesses in Cortez.
The preliminary Cortez budget for 2019 cuts all capital expenses for the actual installation for the Cortez Community Network in 2019 and 2020, but General Services Director Rick Smith said fiber is not going away. The city will continue to operate and maintain the existing fiber infrastructure, which he said serves 15 to 20 percent of the city.
“I would always like to have capital money to expand the network, of course, but the city is just not in a financial place right now where they can budget it,” Smith said.
The RFP seeks companies that could handle financing, design, business model, rate structure, construction, operations and maintenance – or a combination of any of the above.
Smith said Cortez is asking companies what role they want to play. Upon receiving the applications, he said Cortez will negotiate to see how the company and the city could work together in a private-public partnership.
“I can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to look yet because we haven’t seen anybody’s proposals yet,” Smith said.
Smith said Cortez has paid for capital expenses for fiber in 2017 and 2018 with a $1 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. That grant-funded fiber installation is only for the “middle mile” and anchor institutions, such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.
Cortez now has fiber along the downtown corridor and in all four quadrants of the city. Smith said the existing infrastructure acts as a backbone and will make it easier for a private company to come in and complete the “last mile” of installation or the actual connection to a home or business.
For the time being, Smith said Cortez has likely exhausted its grant opportunities to install fiber. He said DOLA won’t fund the last-mile infrastructure and federal grants are generally reserved for cities without any fiber connections.
He said he hopes the RFP, which closes Jan. 18, will help the city find a company that will make the Cortez Community Network cheaper and easier to install and operate.
“It gives us an opportunity to see how we can get this network built quicker and possibly without a sales tax and still – I call it a win-win – and still provide the level of service and services that fiber can offer,” Smith said.