Steamboat Springs Fiber optics on the way, but who can afford high-speed access when it gets here?
An off-ramp of Colorado's network of high-speed telecom connections might find its way to Steamboat Springs by the end of the summer.
But local officials and Internet providers said it will take time and money before businesses and
residents can access the fiber optic lines that would act as a superhighway rushing information into and out of Steamboat.
NC Telecom, the company that won the right to connect public buildings with high-speed fiber optics, said Steamboat should be connected by the end of the summer. Sarah Moody, assistant executive director of the company, said the fiber optic line is in the ground, but government details and service plans have to be finalized before connection can begin.
Through funding from the state's Beanpole Project, those fiber optics will tap into government facilities from municipal buildings to schools and libraries. But, that connection won't necessarily mean faster Internet access at lower costs at least not right away for local businesses and residents.
Stephanie Reineke, owner of Internet service provider SpringsSips and SpringComm, said the problem with fiber optics is getting the product to local businesses and homes, or what is know as the "last mile" in computer lingo.
"It's about bringing in the capacity and getting it to the end user," said Reineke, who also sits on the Yampa Valley Economic Development Council.
Similar to a water system, fiber optics send information through a single line that connects to hubs as a water mainline connects to hydrants. From those hubs, different lines are sent out to connect to individual buildings.
And just as residents need to dig up yards to connect to water systems, tapping into fiber optics means having to dig trenches from the building to the main hub. The City's Manager of Information Services Kent Morrison said that is a process so costly only businesses that desperately rely on high-speed connections will find it profitable.
Right now, Qwest supplies a fiber optics line to Steamboat over Rabbit Ears Pass. But that connection, Reineke said, lacks the proper equipment and is like having a phone line without a phone. Both the county and city buildings are tapped into Qwest's fiber optics line, but will tap into NC Telecom line as well when it is activated.
Reineke said the two most viable options for local businesses are to use either a wireless system or connect through copper wire systems in phone lines. Both can provide DSL or a T-1 connection, a speed that carries the capacity of 20 to 50 single phone lines.
But wireless connections can be interrupted by radio waves and DSL is limited by distance and does not reach areas like the base of Mount Werner. County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said to keep and retain local businesses more access is needed as people enter the valley from metro areas and hold higher expectations of Internet service.
"For the community as a whole, we heard pretty loud and clear from a lot of different businesses that it is really difficult to locate here especially businesses that have to send time-sensitive information," Stahoviak said. "By having a connection and high speed access, it will create better opportunities for businesses to locate here. There aren't many businesses that don't use it at some point in time."
Though the potential for businesses to hook up with fiber optics is there, Morrison recommends small businesses that are considering an upgrade to a higher speed access go wireless. He said for $2,000 a year, a business could buy the start-up equipment and cover monthly fees.
He then suggests signing a one-year contract. And if fiber optics appears to be a more viable solution, businesses could easily switch at the end of the contract.
"Don't sign more than a year contract. Things are changing," Morrison said.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of having NC Telecom come into Steamboat is providing healthy competition with Qwest. Morrison predicts more services at lower prices will blossom with the arrival of NC Telecom, something that will benefit businesses.
"What we can do is say to local business people, not only can we help you find connections, now we have more choices than before," Morrison said.
NC Telecom will also provide what is known as redundancy by having two fiber optic lines, which means if one is cut, information can still go through the other channel. Morrison said the price of a second line is worth the assurance that Steamboat will remain in contact with the rest of the world, especially for information that flows from police stations, hospitals and fire departments.
When NC Telecom does come to Steamboat, Moody said its first priority would be hooking up public buildings in the Beanpole Project. Businesses will be next followed by residents.
The merger of the NC Telecom line and the Beanpole Project is the realization of two statewide projects that have been in the works for more than 5 years.
NC Telecom's fiber optic line, which will snake from Rifle to Meeker to Craig and finally to Steamboat, is part of the state's technology backbone known as the multi-use network. The state is attempting to build a roadway of fiber optic lines intended to give equal telecommunication access to every county seat in Colorado.
The multi-use network could be thought of as the speedy interstate roads that connect rural areas to metro hubs like Denver. But, it is the Beanpole Project that is attempting to create the smaller county roads that branch off to connect libraries, schools, hospitals and municipalities to the state's fiber optic backbone.
Northwest Colorado was given $1.37 million for the Beanpole Project and that money is to be spent on covering costs to connect government facilities to the high speed lines.
Under the multi-use network, the state government encouraged telecommunication companies to build lines out to rural areas by guaranteeing that 20 out of the possible 45-megabytes traveling through the line would be uses by government facilities. That means that the private sector has the potential to tapping into 25-megabytes of fiber optics.
But for that to be done, Morrison said, a service provider must step forward to hook into the fiber optic network and connect businesses and residents.
Morrison said that some businesses might find it profitable to extend the fiber optic line into their buildings, but for most small businesses and residential users, that option is much too expensive.
What would be cost effective and a possibility in the future would be to have fiber optic lines extend to neighborhood hubs, which could then tap into the copper wires in phone lines or cable lines. And that method would prevent homeowners from digging trenches to bury fiber-optic lines, but it would also require the initiative from a cable or phone company.
Reineke warns that while this method would speed up Internet connection by more than twice the pace of a dial-up modem phone lines, it is still slower than what a pure fiber optics line would produce. Reineke said residents could also use the hub idea, but instead of connecting to phone lines, the fiber optics could then be sent out through a wireless system.
Regardless of the means of distribution, Reineke said customers would be faced with bills much larger than the current monthly rates for a single modem dial-up connection.
"One thing the general public should know, is that it costs something to provide high speed access," Reineke said.
Another way to tap into fiber optics is for developers to include lines when building new projects. But if lines are there, it does not necessarily mean the connection is there.
Reineke points to two recent developments Catamount and Elk River that put in fiber-optic lines during construction. Unfortunately, she said both developments do not realize the full speed of the line because it has to be transferred into telephone wires before reaching Qwest's main hub.