Our View: Connectivity more than a luxury | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Connectivity more than a luxury

At Issue

The lack of adequate broadband redundancy leaves many rural Colorado counties — including Routt — at risk of potentially life-threatening interruptions to 911 service

Our View

It is time for officials to take proactive steps toward ensuring counties in rural Colorado have reliable broadband and telephone service

Connectivity is the hallmark of 21st century existence. Thanks to the exponential growth of technology during the past several decades, we now live in a world which, a mere 20 years ago, would have seemed like the stuff of science fiction, and today, most of us carry around more computing power in our pockets than existed in the entire arsenal of supercomputers it took to put men on the moon back in 1969.

At Issue

The lack of adequate broadband redundancy leaves many rural Colorado counties — including Routt — at risk of potentially life-threatening interruptions to 911 service

With the click of a button or the tap of an icon, we are afforded instantaneous access to everyone we know, everything we need and most anything we wish to read about or watch. Many of us no longer carry cash thanks to electronic transactions that become more and more sophisticated by the day. And with telephones in our pockets, we feel secure in knowing no matter what may arise, we are always within easy reach of emergency services.

It’s only when things goes wrong — when we’re suddenly severed from this interconnecting web of modern life — that we realize how truly dependent upon it we’ve become.

Routt County got a bitter taste of that July 6, when construction crews working on improvements to Colorado Highway 9 south of Kremmling cut a Century Link fiber optic cable along the highway, causing an outage of telephone and Internet communication that began at 2:30 p.m. and continued until 11:30 in parts of Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek, Yampa, Fraser and Granby.

According to Century Link media spokesperson Sara Spaulding, the outage — which ultimately impacted landlines, Internet services and cellphone providers in the county — continued for more than eight hours. During that time, residents were unable to make telephone calls, connect to the Internet or, in many cases, undertake debit/credit card transactions at local businesses.

This was undoubtedly both frustrating and inconvenient, but the real concern goes far beyond a few hours without access to Facebook or the convenience that comes from simply swiping a payment card through an electronic reader. The outage also disrupted access to 911 emergency services in the county, and it wasn’t until early the following morning that the system was completely restored.

Of even greater potential consequence, it now seems that, for about three hours the evening of July 6, emergency calls from parts of Routt County were not automatically rerouted to the communications center in Craig, as was expected. As a result, any 911 calls that may have been made to the city of Steamboat Springs’ 911 line during that period were not transferred, and anyone who called got a busy signal.

According to a news release from Sharon Clever, Routt County Communications Center supervisor, all 911 and administrative lines had been restored by 1:07 a.m. July 7, but three hours can stretch into an eternity for someone who’s in an emergency situation and needs help.

“The problem is, there is only one route for connections out of Steamboat to Denver, and that’s over Rabbit Ears down Highway 9, and during this construction that’s going on, I suspect this will be a problem at other times in the future,” said Sean Heskett, Zirkel Wireless owner and chief technical officer.

In an effort to mediate the connectivity issues that accompany such outages, Heskett said Zirkel Wireless has been working with Mammoth Networks, a middle-mile provider that gives regional service providers a footprint outside their traditional coverage areas, to get a connection out of Craig.

And on Monday, Routt County commissioners announced they are close to an agreement engaging a broadband consultant who will be counted on to identify strategies for closing the gaps in connectivity across the county.

At the same time, the city of Steamboat Springs and other local institutions are working to land a state grant from the Department of Local Affairs that would enable them to engage a consultant to identify broadband service deficiencies and outline projects and public-private partnerships to help alleviate them.

These are important steps to be sure, and we commend Zirkel, Century Link and local officials for moving so quickly to identify the gaps and develop strategies for bridging them. But at the same time, we hope these officials will also reach out to state representatives Diane Mitsch Bush and Randy Baumgardner and ask them to contact the Colorado Office of Information Technology and perhaps the governor’s office.

While recognizing that broadband connectivity is largely a private endeavor, we think the fact that an entire county can be severed from its line to emergency services by a single, misplaced backhoe blade, coupled with the fact that the problem is not limited to Routt County, suggests this is an issue of statewide import. The technology to correct this deficiency exists, and it’s long past time we put it into place.

This is more than a matter of tolerating a temporary inconvenience or negotiating an interruption in commerce.

It could one day become a matter of life and death.

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