Westcliffe is one step closer to getting speedy and reliable internet access. The proposed Local Public Access WiFi System will hopefully be up and running by June in time for the June 20 Ride the Rockies event.
One of the key stumbling blocks was finding the needed $50,000 in funding, and that has been tentatively put in place.
Once operational, the first phase of system will provide WiFi service all along Westcliffe’s Main Street from The Bluff to the Custer County School, as well as the Custer County Rodeo/Fairgrounds and the Westcliffe Town Park and the Hermit Pavilion Park, and some surrounding streets.
A planned second phase would extend the service along Highway 96 to Silver Cliff.
Details for the project were finalized at a meeting of the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG) on March 18
This free WiFi system will allow residents and visitors the use of faster internet through their smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices.
The Custer County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has for years discussed the need to make this happen, but has gained additional support as the international Ride the Rockies event draws near.
The $50,000 in funding for the project comes from local donations, as well as from a $25,000 challenge grant from El Pomar Foundation’s four-county Central Peaks Regional Council; final approval of that grant is expected next Monday by the El Pomar Foundation board of trustees.
Dale Mullen, president of the Custer County Local Technology Planning Team (CC LTPT), told the Tribune that the public WiFi system is expected to be deployed in time for Ride the Rockies.
The EDC unsuccessfully sought funding from the Westcliffe town trustees and the Custer County Commissioners.
Westcliffe town attorney Jay Printz had said state statutes precluded most municipalities from becoming directly involved in these types of projects.
“Since the town declined to show interest in matching funds for this project,” Mullen said, “it has been pursued under EDC to find sufficient funding.”
Under the anticipated El Pomar Foundation grant, funds will go through UAACOG’s Upper Arkansas Regional Service Council, a 501c3 organization which was established in 2007 to help facilitate grants in the four-county Council of Governments area.
“This is not a replacement for broadband,” Mullen said. “It is important that this kind of connectivity is offered throughout the county.”
Mullen explained that the current low internet access has caused problems for business associates in the past who have come to the Valley for meetings. He has seen them frantically searching for internet connection on their phones.
In today’s high-tech environment, “People should never not be connected,” Mullen said, who added he’s pleased with the support received.
“It has been the most amazing scenario,” Mullen said. “Individuals and groups have come forward to donate to the matching funds. I have never seen anything like it.”
The EDC will be meeting to select a provider for the service, and to arrange the various logistics, which will include the installation of the equipment and devices needed to provide the service.
“We hope to have it fully operational a few days before the Ride the Rockies event,” Mullen said.
– J.E. Ward