In a surprising move, a second company, Forethought.net, which says it is working in conjunction with Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, has filed for a state broadband grant funding to run fiber up Chalk Creek Canyon. For the first time, this sets up a competitive situation between two companies, including Colorado Central Telecom which filed it’s application a few weeks ago, vying to bring 21st century technology to the canyon.

A message sent to Ark Valley Voice on January 20, by Forethought representative Jawaid Bazyar, announced “my company Forethought.net has stepped in and submitted for the grant. We are partnered with Mt. Princeton Hot Springs and we are committed to completing the project.”

Mears Engineering, on behalf of Mt.Princeton, began plowing in broadband along CR 162 between U.S. 285 and Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort, as evidenced in this Oct. 22 photo.

Regional broadband provider Colorado Central Telecom (CCT)  submitted a grant proposal to the state broadband fund on January 15, its third attempt; this one in conjunction with Sangre de Cristo Electric Cooperative. Two prior attempts were thwarted; the first when it was discovered that much of the private land through which fiber would run was in trust, presenting a difficult and lengthy approval process. A second grant application was vacated when the U.S. Forest Service announced that the planned use of county road right-of-way through its land might also consume an unknown amount of time. Both situations could take the grant funding outside the two-year grant guidelines, risking the CCT investment.

In a followup conversation late Friday, January 24, Bazyar said that he had not been in touch with Chaffee County Commissioners, but that he had talked with Chaffee Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Wendell Pryor before submitting the application.

“We were approached in December by Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, and asked if we wanted to collaborate with them and execute this. The project includes fiber from the Hot Springs up to Alpine, to provide fiber and wireless. It’s basically a $1.7 million project, with 75 percent from the grant, and Mt. Princeton and Forethought.net putting in the other 25 percent.”

Asked if he was aware of the challenging terrain and lack of U.S. Forest Service approval for use of the road right-of-way, Bazyar sounded confident.

“We’ve worked with the Forest Service in Red Cliff, south of Vail and completed complicated projects to get fiber running up to Ski Cooper. We’ve gone up the side of the mountain to the top of one of their ski lifts with a wireless shot to a tower. We did 1.5 miles of trenching up the access road. I guess you could say we’ve been through that meat grinder before.”

Bazyar said that while his company has experience with the aerial approach that Colorado Central Telecom is proposing, they are submitting for the underground road approach first proposed by CCT. “We like the under-the-road approach – it’s better protected.” He added that while the road might be more expensive, “We know how to do this. If there’s a fire, underground is better.”

Bazyar said that the Chalk Creek Canyon project is just one of five projects that they had submitted to the Colorado Broadband fund last week. While he assured AVV that “ the county is aware of this,” calls to Chaffee County Chair Greg Felt and Commissioner Keith Baker revealed that neither knew anything of the second submission. “Well, that’s news to me,” said Chaffee County Chair Felt.

Bazyar, who said they probably won’t know if they have gotten the grant until April, appears unfazed by his company’s lack of contact with the county. “These rural communities are our mission. We’ve been around since ’95 and we’re small enough and nimble enough to just go get it done. I office in Denver, we have offices in Gypsum, Grand Junction, Durango….we’re solidly in the rural broadband space now — this is our niche. We often partner with a company that can get the connection to the world.”