Improved broadband planned to reach Routt County in coming months
January 29, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – It has been more than a year since the Northwest Colorado Broadband project completed a $2.2 million fiber optic line through Steamboat Springs to offer more affordable broadband to the area. Now, private businesses are planning to offer high-speed internet from that line to businesses and residents in Routt County.
The expanded fiber optics networks is a product of the Northwest Colorado Broadband project, a local nonprofit. The group plans to coordinate with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments' regional broadband program. In 2018, the council rolled out Project THOR, which seeks to create a spider web of broadband networks in 10 counties around Northwest Colorado, including Routt.
The goal of Project THOR, as well as the Northwest Colorado Broadband project, is to provide more affordable broadband to counties in the region and increase the redundancy of the broadband network among those counties. That would protect the network connection if damage to the fiber optic line ever occurred.
Jon Stavney, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said the local need for more reliable broadband was realized in 2011 after a cut in the fiber optic line knocked down cellular service for much of Routt County.
"No business in Steamboat could even run a credit card purchase," Stavney said of the incident.
Steamboat's new fiber optic line spans the length of the city, from the Steamboat Springs Airport on the west to the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices on the east.
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The line acts as a trunk from which internet providers can later connect to and branch out from, providing cheaper broadband services to residents and businesses across Routt County, including in under-served rural areas.
A grant of $748,195 from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs’ Energy's Mineral Impact Assistance Fund helped to fund the $2.2 million project with the partners of Northwest Colorado Broadband — Routt County, the city of Steamboat Springs, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Yampa Valley Electric Association and Steamboat Springs School District — matching the grant.
The Yampa Valley Electric Association released a statement saying it will begin offering high-speed, fiber broadband internet service from the new fiber optic line sometime this year. Steve Johnson, the president and general manager of Yampa Valley Electrical Association, said that initially, those services will reach the city limits of Craig and pockets of Steamboat.
"We are building out the network to the densest areas first, then we will expand to more rural areas," Johnson said.
He added that building and expanding a broadband network does not come fast or easy.
"This type of construction takes years to develop," he said.
Zirkel Wireless, which provides broadband coverage in Northwest Colorado, also has plans to partner with the Northwest Colorado Broadband project. The internet provider has been working with the U.S. Forest service to expand its services into North Routt, an area infamous for its lack of reliable internet services.
In neighborhoods like Hahn’s Peak Village in North Routt, it can take 20 minutes to download a web page.
The new fiber optic line running through Steamboat has already been paying dividends to the five members of Northwest Colorado Broadband. Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan, who is also the board chairman of Northwest Colorado Broadband, said members have enjoyed increased broadband capacity without needing to pay more for it.
"Since we started our broadband effort, Routt County was paying what we are right now to provide 10 megabits for $1,100 a month," Sullivan said. "We are paying the same amount to buy 250 megabits of data."
When the Northwest Colorado Broadband project joins with Project THOR, Sullivan expects the same amount of money to buy more than 1 gigabyte of data.
As part of Project THOR, Northwest Colorado Broadband will construct a Meet Me center in Steamboat, which Sullivan describes as an off-ramp from the network highway. That will connect Steamboat's fiber optic line to the other members of Project THOR and allow private internet services providers to expand broadband services from the main fiber optic trunk line.
Sullivan said there are opportunities for the Northwest Colorado Broadband project to expand west to Hayden and Craig.