Outage highlights needs to improve fiber optic redundancy around Routt County

Teresa Ristow

— The second major outage in as many months affecting telephone and Internet service in Routt County provides further support for the need to improve service redundancy and prevent future outages.

Tuesday’s outage began around 11:20 a.m., when a construction crew in the Muddy Pass area of U.S. Highway 40 cut a CenturyLink fiber optic line, disrupting service to at least 6,000 customers for the remainder of the day, according to a CenturyLink spokesperson.

The outage initially disrupted Routt County 911 service entirely before CenturyLink began rerouting emergency calls to Moffat County, where dispatchers relayed emergency traffic back to Routt County dispatchers, who then radioed calls to emergency personnel.

Steamboat police Sgt. Rich Brown said having Tuesday’s calls routed through Craig created a bit of a challenge, particularly when officers and firefighters were called to a report of an accident involving a child, a bicycle and a car.

“When I respond to a call like that, I have a lot of other questions and things I’m thinking about,” Brown said.

Fortunately, the child — who was riding his bike on the sidewalk and ran into the side of the car — was fine.

“There’s not as many details when we’re responding, but fortunately, it was pretty quiet,” Brown said.

The impact was evident for businesses around town, including banks, such as Wells Fargo and Yampa Valley Bank, which couldn’t process transactions.

“We had Internet, which was lucky, but our phones were out,” said Rebecca Moore, assistant vice president and operations manager of Yampa Valley Bank. “We had to manually submit all the items, and we had to process all the transactions offline, so (customers) had to wait until this morning (to see if they went through).”

Website designer Kent Morrison said the outage easily cost him $700 in lost revenue Tuesday.

“This is not about buying shoes online,” said Morrison, who has a background in the telecommunications industry. “This is about people trying to work remotely in a rural community getting hosed.”

Morrison estimated if just 2,000 of the several thousand customers impacted by the outage had also lost the same amount of revenue, it would have amounted to about $1.4 million lost by the local economy in a single day.

“And that’s a very conservative estimate,” Morrison said.

State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush said that, after a similar outage affected Steamboat in July, she began making calls to industry leaders at CenturyLink and AT&T to discuss the possibility of improving redundancy so outages don’t have such significant impacts.

Tuesday’s outage re-energized Mitsch Bush to again reach out to CenturyLink to discuss improvements.

“Now that this has happened again, there’s some urgency,” Mitsch Bush said.

She said CenturyLink representatives are willing to discuss the logistics of lighting up another fiber optic line that would establish redundancy in Steamboat, but there are road blocks, including funding and an existing lawsuit between CenturyLink and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Mitsch Bush said she is planning to meet with CenturyLink to continue the discussion on improving redundancy.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.