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Carlin Walsh, founder of Aristata Communications (formerly Colorado Central Telecom) launches the new brand of the firm, March 1, 2023. Merrell Bergin photo

Colorado Central Telecom is Now Aristata Communications

The broadband company that has been known as Colorado Central Telecom (CCT) has a new identity and with it a new name as its President Carlin Walsh reaffirms the company’s commitment to the region.

In an announcement made on Thursday, March 1, Walsh and executives of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation unveiled the new name, Aristata Communications, a new logo, a new website and a renewed commitment to Central Colorado focused on fast, rural Internet.

‘We’re focused on growing our fiber to the home — the last mile fiber to the home (FTTH),” explained Walsh. “Fiber is expensive and hard to hang, but we have this opportunity to get funding for this region, to get fiber to the home. That is the mandate of this acquisition.”

Wash noted that grant funding available for rural broadband from the Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act is significant. ” The state is going to get upwards of $800 billion, much of it earmarked for rural broadband. The mandate is to make sure this region gets that money we need.”

Walsh says that community comes first. He is a fifth-generation Coloradan from rural northeastern Colorado, a longtime Chaffee County resident and a business owner. When he talks community, he means it.

“We are here to fund truly rural communities,” he added, referencing the purpose of the purchase of Colorado Central Telecom he led back in July, 2022. “The mandate is not just to buy this company. The mandate is to use this grant funding for what it is intended for. To connect the communities we’re here to serve.”

Logo courtesy Aristata Communications

Those of us who have spent years waiting for fast rural Internet outside the region’s municipalities, know that this is a hurdle that many companies try to overcome, but not many achieve.

Given the importance of the company’s services to this area, odds are that a good many residents of this region are going to wish them well.

Along with the new name and brand, Aristata Communications has a new headquarters. It is now located at 150 Pahlone Parkway in Poncha Springs (the former Western Archery Building). Walsh, who is also the CEO of Elevation Brewing, based around the corner on County Road 120, says the new location is not about him. “We’ve got tech crews in Westcliffe, so this is more centrally located, yes. But frankly, Poncha Springs has been great to work with.”

The regional importance of the announcement event was underscored by the presence of the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners Chair, Keith Baker, Town of Poncha Springs Mayor Ben Scanga, and Town of Buena Vista Mayor Libby Fay.

Logo courtesy Aristata Communications

A Logo with a Mountain Heritage

Using the promise “Community is our why. Connectivity is our medium,” the company’s new name and brand have been intentionally crafted to connect the communications company to its community roots and mission.

According to Walsh, “Aristata” (Pinus aristata) is the Latin term for the Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, a native conifer that grows in communities throughout the South-Central Rockies. Known for its resiliency, it thrives in some of Colorado’s most rugged terrain.

“I wanted a name that was unique and I didn’t want it to be stuffy,” said Walsh. “These other tech names – they’re not accessible for the average human. I want this brand to be accessible for this community — to embody our western values.”

The Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine is a true high-country plant. “Our towers and much of our equipment is in those same locations where the bristlecone thrives,” explains Walsh. “If you planted bristlecones on the valley floor, it would rot. It thrives where nutrients are limited and they grow in what are called ‘communities’ – and that’s what this mission is all about,”

He added that the arrowhead points forward toward progress and is a reminder of the Ute heritage of the region. ” We are steeped in tradition and it’s important to recognize that….this is about this region from Leadville to La Veta.”

“We’re excited to launch our new brand and new company name under new ownership,” said Aristata Communications’ Board Chair Michael Robinson. “We know we have important work ahead of us to remind our customers that our core values are actionable service promises. We are committed to doing what we say we’re going to do and providing reliable connectivity to the people and communities who depend upon us.” In addition to being locally based, Robinson is a decades-long telecom veteran with international experience.

Resilience and The Last Mile Connectivity

Speaking to AVV about reliability (and the corporate value of resilience), Vice President of Business Operations Wiley “Chip” White pointed out the investment and technological differences that set Aristata apart from their big-name, out-of-area competitors. “Aristata provides fiber optic cable all the way to the house [or business]. It’s the most reliable, most secure signal you can get. Others provide fiber only to a node and then coax or twisted pair (plain old telephone wires) for the last 800-1,000 feet from there.”

“We also triangulate and put in multiple redundancies [terrestrial and wireless that others don’t]. If a line gets cut, we have automatic switching to microwave or other radio sites (on S Mountain and Methodist Mountain among others) to reset the switches to keep everything running.”

He said they plan to run cable from Poncha Springs down CR 120 then across  U.S. 50 and around that side of the highway to form a ring. Aristata Communications is dependent on Xcel and Sangre de Cristo Electric for electric power to their equipment — but even that has battery backup and real-time alerts for their operators.

Aristata Communications (formerly Colorado Central Telcom) employees socialize before being recognized at the brand launch announcement. Merrell Bergin photo

Walsh cited how proud he is of his team and how far they have come in the last seven months. “Tonight for me is a really big deal, he said, recognizing the assembled cluster of field technicians, tower technicians, the project/network manager, customer service staff and others.

“I applaud you for embracing all the changes we have experienced and those that are yet to come. I am truly humbled to lead this organization.”

Walsh stressed that local ownership and control of a key resource like broadband means keeping profits inside the county. “Our unique Western and rural lifestyle can only exist economically if we continue to adapt to our changing world.”

Walsh is matter-of-fact in his assessment of the market price sensitivity of under-served rural areas. “We are getting to a point where connectivity is becoming commoditized. Our high-speed fiber is price competitive with our competitors, but it’s not the same as what they advertise they can provide. As I said, we are focused on growing our fiber to the home …connecting the last mile.”

He chuckles over the speed messages being touted in the Front Range. “The speed conversation is getting quite ludicrous – you only need so much bandwidth – the idea that you need a gig of bandwidth out here — not so.” He expanded on the speed “hype” and said that people using cable or DSL are sharing that with their neighbors and that affects speed and bandwidth.

Walsh asked for a show of hands of how many internet-connected devices people have in their homes, from computers to phones, tablets, and even appliances. Answers of five or ten were common. “By 2030, it’s expected that the average American household will have 17 connected devices – that is an insane number.”

Future Economic Development tied to broadband

Jake Rishavy, Executive Director of Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation addresses the Aristata Communications brand launch announcement as founding EDC executive director Wendell Pryor looks on. Merrell Bergin photo

Wendell Pryor, retired Executive Director of the Chaffee County Economy Development Corporation (EDC) was on hand along with current EDC Executive Director Jake Rishavy. Pryor recounted the decade-long saga of how Colorado Central Telcom was created in Crestone as a community-based effort by then-Mayor Ralph Abrams.

Those efforts led to the EDC securing a grant to study broadband in the area and ultimately to the expansion of local broadband. Later, at the time that Abrams was interested in selling his company, Pryor said “I think I know someone who might have an interest in it– Carlin Walsh.”

“For communities that have it, ‘the world is their oyster’,” said Rishavy, who pointed out broadband is now a utility. Local ownership and control is key.  “Communities that are well suited and have that infrastructure (remote workers, Zoom meetings, telemedicine) can really achieve amazing things in this digital economy.  Those that don’t have it are at a pretty big risk.”

Chaffee County Commissioner Keith Baker recounted his long relationship with Walsh; going back to the just-graduated-high school Walsh, continuing as Walsh opened Elevation Beer Company to today, expanding onto the broadband business.

“Carlin has the vision, the creativity, and the ‘get up and go’ that’s going to keep us on the cutting edge. He knows how to seize the opportunity [and take advantage of incoming federal funding]. Thank you for your investment and for everything you’re doing to make this happen.”

The Aristata service area now includes Chaffee County and Lake County all the way up to Twin Lakes and Granite. In addition they serve Custer County, western Fremont, and western Huerfano County, almost to Walsenburg.

Walsh said the next phase of the company includes job opportunities – especially in the field crews, installers, fiber experts, tower technicians. The office move to  Poncha Springs doesn’t represent an organizational change for us. It’s just anopportunity to better centralize our headquarters.”

Finding local workers to staff rising demand is a challenge for everyone in Chaffee County – one that the Economic Development Corporation in partnership with area high schools and Colorado Mountain College hope to meet, providing good-paying jobs that keep graduating students working in the valley.

“The value of community and creating economic resiliency in our region beyond tourism has become my anchoring drive for work in my hometown and neighboring communities in the Central Rockies served by Aristata Communications,” added Walsh. “We’re seeking to strengthen community roots, provide reliable, high-speed internet, and move the region forward while creating a positive and lasting impact for the generations ahead.”

Ark Valley Voice staff contributing to this breaking news story include Managing Editor Jan Wondra and Copy Editor Merrell Bergin.