From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 24 - September 11, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Government-funded fiber optics unlikely

by Cat Urbigkit

After spending the evening discussing and learning about the feasibility of constructing a fiber optic network in Sublette County, local government officials indicated their support for sponsoring the project is unlikely.

Tuesday evening's meeting at the Sublette Center in Pinedale brought together Sublette County School District No. 1 and No. 9 board members with Sublette County Commissioner Gordon Johnston and Sublette County Clerk Mary Lankford to discuss the feasibility study conducted by DSG of Denver. DSG had recommended that the two school districts partner with county government to create a joint powers board to develop the network, with the cost of the project ranging from about $5.8 million to $9.6 million.

But the elected officials also learned at the meeting that CenturyTel was upgrading its microwave system on the Hogsback effective later the same night, with the result being a three-fold increase in the capacity of that facility.

Dick Kirkpatrick of DSG recommended that the joint powers board be created anyway, to move the fiber optic process forward, adding, "In my opinion, it's the only way you're going to see high-speed access in this community."

But some of the local officials cast doubt on that, pointing out that just a few months ago, no one knew CenturyTel was going to upgrade the Hogsback microwave. DSG's Mitch Johnson, admitting he was playing the cynic, suggested that CenturyTel might not have done the upgrade without the possibility of competition suggested by the feasibility study.

Kirkpatrick and Johnson described a process in which the joint powers board could study alternatives for fiber routes, and then negotiate with service providers for rates and long-term connectivity for Sublette County.

The DSG representatives also pointed out that a fiber line has been installed from Jackson to Bondurant, so connecting in with that line provides a new alternative, although services would then probably be routed back through the Evanston area.

No. 9 Board Member Curt Parsons pointed out that people kept saying that Big Piney wouldn't get a fiber line unless it is done through an entity like the joint powers board.

"Is that really right?" Parsons asked, pointing to the fact that Bondurant has a line. "I don't know. It does strike me as very odd."

School board members from both districts asked numerous questions aimed at helping them learn the merits of additional T1 lines compared to the fiber line, but the bottom line seemed to be holding hope that the Hogsback upgrade will take care of the community's current needs while allowing for some expansion.

Parsons said the amount of change that has occurred in the last three months, with the Hogsback upgrade and new alternatives, "It really rocks me back on my heels ..."

Johnson acknowledged, "A lot of the base assumptions that this was prepared on have changed."

No. 9 Board Chairman Scott Houfek agreed with Parsons' assessment, adding, "Who knows what's going to happen in two to three years?"

Lankford and Johnston also questioned the $48,000 in legal fees DSG estimated it would cost to create the joint powers board. Lankford suggested that the legal documents could be created by one of the governmental entity's attorneys to save costs.

"It is a lot of money," Johnston said, noting that the county just created a joint powers board with two other counties.

"I suppose that the whole thing cost us about $9 so far," Johnston said, using county attorneys from the three involved entities.

The school board and the commission are slated to discuss the fiber issue at their respective board meetings and Lankford will poll them for their interest in creating the joint powers board.

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