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Keeping Online – Colorado Central Telecom

By Mike Rosso

It was over a decade into the 21st century and the town of Crestone was struggling to keep up with the modern era. At a time when most of the urban United States, as well as many rural communities were becoming more and more dependent on the internet for work, news, commerce, and entertainment, the small community at the base of the Sangre De Cristo mountains in the San Luis Valley was not getting the needed bandwidth for basic internet service from its sole provider.

Ralph Abrams, then mayor of Crestone, was concerned the lack of workable bandwidth was discouraging newcomers and causing some residents to leave.

“We were getting half a meg at best,” Abrams said.

That’s when local citizens decided to take matters into their own hands. Their biggest challenge was finding the startup capital to take on a project of this magnitude. A grassroots effort was started to raise community funding, as well as help from a Small Business Administration loan arranged through the Collegiate Peaks Bank. Several grants were also helpful in the company’s expansion, including one from the State Broadband Deployment Fund and from Freeport-McMoRan Inc., the owners of the Climax Mine in Leadville.

“We started with 58 local investors, including contributions from our CEO and other staff members. We have since repaid our original investors, though a handful opted to hold onto their stake in the company,” Abrams explained.


He used this capital to start Crestone Telecom, employing a tower to send broadband signals to homes and businesses as a wireless internet service provider in Crestone. Its first customer came online in April 2012.

“Our first tower was located just outside the town limits of Crestone, due east of the Baca [subdivision]. We call it the ‘Aspen’ tower,” said Abrams.

The initial success led the company to expand its coverage area to the northern San Luis Valley and eventually into the Upper Arkansas River Valley with the encouragement of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC) whose board considered broadband its number one priority, according to its director, Wendell Pryor. “The CCEDC was helpful in facilitating and connecting the dots for the young business,” he said.

Operations Manager Noah Abrams during a winter climb of the tower at Swisher Automotive, north of Buena Vista.

Crestone Telecom transitioned to Colorado Central Telecom in 2015, a name change that reflected its expanded service area. It was still the little guy in the land of Spectrum and CenturyLink, but unlike those national companies, could offer personal service, and an actual human at the office to answer the phone. The business office is located in downtown Buena Vista at the site of the old Hi-Rocky. CCT’s first client in Chaffee County was Monarch Mountain, which at 11,000 feet needed high speed internet for its day-to-day operations. It came online on the first day of 2013. Mount Princeton Hot Springs was also instrumental in getting CCT into Chaffee County by leasing land for a tower, as was Sangre De Cristo Electric who helped provide juice to the tower.

The company currently has over a dozen employees and has a growing network of more than 15 towers and repeater sites in Chaffee County, 12 sites in Saguache County and recently began serving Lake County and Leadville, receiving a grant to help bring internet service to the remote town of Twin Lakes in December 2017. The towers beam fixed wireless internet service to a dish on a customer’s house, which is connected to a Wi-Fi router that provides online access. There are no satellites involved in the process. The Internet traffic travels back and forth from the Wi-Fi router, dish and tower. The company leverages a redundant hybrid fiber/microwave network with more than 30 towers and repeater sites across its service area and is currently serving 2,700 customers in the region.

The company offers plans ranging from 4 Megabits per second to 25 Megabits per second, unlimited phone service via the internet as well as offering Wi-Fi First Aid extended technical support.

Colorado Central Telecom was named 2017 Internet Provider of the Year at the Mountain Connect Broadband Development Conference.

Asked about the impact of the recent FCC decision to roll back net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites, CCT are not big fans and believe the internet should be kept open and that all data on the internet should be treated the same, with no discrimination or additional charges for content.

Future plans include the grant-funded expansion up Chalk Creek canyon to service residents along that route up to the town of St. Elmo and increased capacity in Leadville and Lake County. The company is also partnering with Ciello to expand broadband access in the San Luis Valley.