Douglas County commissioners have identified improving broadband access as a key priority this year.
It comes as the county has millions of federal dollars to make improvements and the voter's permission to do so. While those plans are still in their early stages, leaders are keeping a close eye on what other areas have done.
As an architect working from home, Heather Calme can only do as much as her internet allows, especially with a husband and three teenagers constantly online too. Still, despite the daily demand on her network, she's experienced few issues.
It's a benefit of the fiber line wired into her home, she believes.
"We're using it to its fullest ability," Calme said.
Calme has lived in Sterling Ranch for about six years now and from day one her internet service has come from a unique partnership.
Back in 2015, the development company linked up with Lumen Technologies, formerly Century Link, to create a fiber network that includes every home.
"We wanted to make that an amenity for our residents and make sure they had access to it," said Brock Smethills, president of Sterling Ranch Development Company.
According to Smethills, more than 12,000 units will have access to the network when all construction is complete in the neighborhood. Right now, the partnership offers 1GB of service, with an upgrade planned for later this year.
Walker Hinshaw, CEO of Lumiere Fiber, said soon they'll offer 3GB and 8GB service in Sterling Ranch, which the group believes is among the best in the state.
"We've still got so much room to run on what fiber can actually do and the speeds it can handle and bandwidth it can handle that we're nowhere close to maxing out our fiber assets," Hinshaw said. "We're going to be able to provide those 50GB, 100GB speeds to our residents as those speeds continue to increase and the quality continues to go up."
While Sterling Ranch is on the cutting edge, many other parts of Douglas County are far from it.
A study commissioned in 2022, found thousands of residents in both rural and suburban areas are underserved and about 3,000 have no access to wired internet.
"We have a lot of people in our county that are underserved," said commissioner, Abe Laydon. "They're not unserved, but their internet is not reliable, so we want to ensure as a county we're partnering well so they have that fourth utility."
The county can now work on infrastructure improvements because voters decided to opt out of Senate Bill 152 in the November election. The law prevents public sector entities from operating communication facilities to provide service to the public, which includes working with the private sector to facilitate service to the public.
According to Laydon, Douglas County has set aside $8 million received from the American Rescue Plan Act. Staff and commissioners are currently looking at nine different providers with the end goal of partnering with at least one.
"The private sector is much more adept than government at providing those services, but certainly through partnership we can find a cost-effective solution for everyone," Laydon said.
Current recommendations to commissioners include investing in a ring fiber network to create public-private partnerships and providing grant support to neighborhoods, HOAs, and districts. Commissioner Laydon said county leaders will continue to watch Sterling Ranch closely.
"They're becoming a model of what it means to be incredibly high-tech," he said.
In the offices of the development company, they call fiber "future proof" because it allows the provider to nimbly adapt and improve the network as technology changes.
"To know that the electrical equipment would change over time but having the glass in the ground would enable us to take advantage of those changes in technology when they occur," said Smethills.
In Sterling Ranch, they plan to start rolling out faster internet speeds later this year.
There's no current timeline for making any broadband decisions at the county level, Laydon says.
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