DENVER - Broadband connections to Mancos and Dove Creek will be ready by January, and a line from Durango to Silverton will be built by next September, an executive with Eagle-Net, said Monday.
A $3.5 million investment by a private Texas company named Affiniti will allow completion of the "very difficult" line to Silverton, said Eagle-Net President Michael Ryan.
The plan is part of a $15 million infusion by Affiniti through a deal announced in October for Affiniti to take over operation of the network Eagle-Net built with public funds. U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, has asked for a Department of Commerce investigation into the propriety of the deal with Affiniti.
Ryan told state legislators Monday that Eagle-Net will retain ownership of the network, and the deal with Affiniti will work well for Colorado.
"What we're doing is a great thing for the schools of Colorado and the kids of Colorado," Ryan said.
Eagle-Net has come under fire for not delivering on its promise to build high-speed connections to each school district in Colorado.
The company began as an entity created by several school districts, and it won a $100 million federal grant for its statewide broadband project.
Critics say Eagle-Net wasted its grant by building duplicate networks in the Denver metro area and ran out of money before it could reach numerous rural towns, including Pagosa Springs and Bayfield. Connections to Gunnison, Nucla and Naturita, Delta, Creede and Lake City also won't be built without additional funding.
Without the Affiniti deal, Eagle-Net would have been able to connect only 63 percent to 64 percent of the state's school districts, Ryan said in an interview.
Ryan told state lawmakers that Eagle-Net is now aiming to have 80 percent of the school districts connected by the end of next year. But in comments to reporters after Monday's hearing, he said it could take four years to connect 80 percent of the districts.
Connections to Cortez and Dolores were completed recently. Hookups to Mancos and Dove Creek should be ready in January, Ryan said.
The Silverton project is now in the planning stage. Last Wednesday, Eagle-Net released a request for proposals by contractors to build the first segment of the broadband line, which will run from Durango to Cascade Village.
However, Eagle-Net will run out of grant money before it can complete its network from Durango east through Bayfield and Pagosa Springs to the San Luis Valley. That stretch could be built later using revenues from network operations.
In addition to Silverton's $3.5 million, the Affiniti deal will set aside an identical amount for other rural, underserved areas. Eagle-Net is working with the state Department of Education on deciding which lines to build first, Ryan said.
"How do we build out to every area and get to every school district? There is no other organization thinking about that in the state besides Eagle-Net. You have my commitment that we will continue to strive to build out all those areas," Ryan said.