Routt County resident Dale Morris’ job as a computer architect for Hewlett-Packard doesn’t require him to be near the company’s corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Routt County resident Dale Morris’ job as a computer architect for Hewlett-Packard doesn’t require him to be near the company’s corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

Experts: More broadband needed in Steamboat

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— To keep people like Dale Morris in Routt County, some say enhancing the area’s broadband network is the only way to go.

Morris is a location-neutral professional. His job as a computer architect for Hewlett-Packard doesn’t require him to be near the company’s corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. It doesn’t really require him to be anywhere specific.

He’s among a growing number of location-neutral professionals who have chosen to call the Yampa Valley home.

“Their presence and growth is helping diversify the local economy in ways we did not anticipate 10 years ago,” Scott Ford, former director of the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative and an adviser to data mining nonprofit Yampa Valley Partners, said in an email. “The catalyst for this important change to the economy of Routt County has been broadband.”

According to data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, an average of 12 percent of the county’s workforce from 2007 to 2009 was location-neutral, said Yampa Valley Partners Executive Director Kate Nowak, who compiled the information. She said that’s up from 6 percent in 2000 and 3 percent in 1990.

Nowak said an estimated 1,421 employees of the 15,350-person county workforce of 16- to 64-year-olds are location-neutral — a percentage twice as high as the state and higher than Boulder, the next closest county.

“We’ve got a lot of that, and I think we can grow it,” Nowak said.

She added that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary estimates for 2010, the average annual wage for the professional/technology/scientific industry sector that location-neutral professionals typically fall into is $53,538. The average for all industries is $39,283.

Economist Carl Steidtmann told the audience at the 2011 Economic Summit in May that attracting location-neutral professionals was “probably one of the most under-realized opportunities” for Steamboat and the valley.

Steidtmann, chief economist and director of consumer business for Deloitte Research, also is a location-neutral professional living in Steamboat.

He said at the Economic Summit that as broadband was enhanced, more workers would choose where to live based not on necessity, but quality of life.

“If you could live anywhere you wanted, wouldn’t Steamboat be high on the list?” Morris asked.

He and his wife, Lynne Garell, moved to the county from Menlo Park in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000 to escape the big-city, traffic-congested, never-get-to-see-your-friends-because-you’re-all-so-busy lifestyle.

Morris is member of Ignite Steamboat, a networking group for location-neutral professionals.

Noreen Moore, former business resource director for the county’s Economic Development Cooperative, helped found the group, which has grown to 162 members.

She cited other services important to location-neutral professionals, such as cellular telephone service and access to air travel, both of which could be improved. Moore said she hasn’t heard from Ignite members or other location-neutral businesses and professionals that the local broadband service is inadequate.

“It’s not so bad right now, but that doesn’t mean we rest on our laurels,” she said.

Moore added that broadband needed to be as fast, as accessible and as affordable as it is in metro areas.

Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner has been working to improve Northwest Colorado’s connectivity since 1997. She’s coordinating one of four state-created Local Technology Planning Teams.

Danner said the region’s broadband has seen “phenomenal growth” in the past decade, which needs to continue to provide services and increase economic development opportunities.

“From the requests and the comments I hear, anecdotally, we are not there,” she said, noting that educational institutions and health care organizations have requested faster broadband. “The world is moving at a very fast pace. We will have to work diligently to keep up with it.”

Danner added that improving broadband is one of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s economic development initiatives.

Ford said the infrastructure was in place to enhance the local broadband network. He said technological improvements would make it faster, which was important as a “critical” infrastructure for the community.

Morris acknowledged the importance of broadband — he used a dial-up Internet connection when he moved to Steamboat — but said technology isn’t the only draw for location-neutral professionals. He said it’s the people.

“We really picked Steamboat, or Steamboat picked us, because of the sense of community, the ‘How about you come over for dinner?’ sort of thing,” Morris said. “People are so focused here on having fun, but also hanging out with friends. That’s hugely important to us.”

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

exduffer 3 years, 5 months ago

Considering all the comments on this website I think our internet access is quite sufficient.

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hubiem 3 years, 5 months ago

it's not internet access that they are talking about. it's the SPEED of the internet access that is the issue.

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rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

I've heard no complaints, from all my friends and acquaintances, some of whom do high-volume business on the Internet. My own site is hosted on a server in another state; I only do maintenance from here, and again, I have no complaints.

Funny how our perspective changes. 35 years ago computers were FAST, saving keystrokes and secretaries. Now they're billions of times faster, your movie burps, and the damn thing is SLOW.

You can break anything. Some people are never happy. And if you're waiting on it, it ain't fast.

I saw not one comment in this article, from anyone actually in the business, complaining about Internet service in this valley -- that's likely why they moved here. All I heard was warning squawks.

It sounds to me like some people who get paid to flap their gums and steal our money, are up to just that, yet again.

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Mark Mueller 3 years, 5 months ago

highwaystar, I guess I don't fall into your list of friends - but the reality is that location-neutral professionals aren't known for interacting much as a whole - it's best to assume we are all in hiding. Within Steamboat the available speed is decent, outside of Steamboat availability drops off fast and is spotty especially when it comes to cellular infrastructure.

The picture I've been seeing as a result of my involvement in Steamboat Ignite is that the location-neutral professional community here is a healthy and critical component of Routt county's economy with better potential for growth than other segments. Yet, when it comes to critical infrastructure like broadband, cellular, and business travel, everything that is here today is focused entirely on the Tourism industry.

I've lived and worked near Oak Creek for the last 10 years - the broadband and cellular here is just as lousy as it was 10 years ago - each year there are promises that the cell tower in Oak Creek will be upgraded and each year it gets delayed.

And yes, the airport is important too, but my own experience has been that I take a big risk every time I travel from HDN because a high percentage of flights are canceled and it's generally impossible to get on another flight. A month ago a 20 hour international trip became a yet another 72 hour trip from hell because United didn't have a crew to fly the plane from HDN to Denver.

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rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

Mark -- My hat is off to you, sir. Obviously you are using the Internet to an extent I am not, and from a more remote location. I have been educated. Even this old dog can learn new tricks, though I put nginx back in the closet. I am relatively uptown, on Qwest in the West End. My condolences, and maybe it's more of a problem than I realized.

You also sound more well-travelled than I am; I haven't flown since the '80's. My neutral locations from which I have pursued my business(es) in recent years would include Steamboat, Phoenix, and Vegas -- all in the West, easy driving distance.

If my fledgling business ever succeeds in a big way, I may opt to move my neutral location, at least temporarily. Northern Italy somehow entices me; the Alps have got to be fantastic. Any world travellers out there got any information about Internet access there? I know, 50 Hz. I don't need great speed; my site can stay where it is. But is it generally available?

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rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

I would ask if some other things are generally available, but that's another forum.

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David Hill 3 years, 5 months ago

Having just spent a week at our condo in Steamboat I must say I found the speed and quality of service of our Internet access to be extremely poor. As a consulting professional that relies heavily on the Internet for conducting business it was extremely frustrating even for the limited amount of work I was trying to accomplish while on vacation. Living in northern Virginia where I am able to obtain 35 Mbps download speed and 6 Mbps upload speed with just ordinary home residential Internet access probably has me spoiled. During the times the Internet was available to me in Steamboat this past week, 0.98 Mbps was the best download speed I could achieve.

I understand that the Internet provider for our condo that serves many of the resort properties in Steamboat is in the process of upgrading their physical infrastructure to improve their speed. However, the technician that worked on the modem in our unit said that even with the upgrades, the speeds would be much less than what are typically available in larger cities.

As someone that plans to eventually reside in Steamboat for at least half the year, and will likely still be trying to provide consulting services, having faster and more reliable Internet access would certainly be welcomed. Having more reliable cell coverage that doesn’t drop out when I move from the balcony to the inside of the condo would also be more conducive to conducting business.

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Kevin Nerney 3 years, 5 months ago

I am probably the most computer illiterate person in this town and I think my old laptop is slower than molasses but when I click on the little icon in the lower right corner it says signal strength is very good and speed is 54.00 Mbps with linksys. Am I missing something when it comes to speed or is the computer lying to me? A recent commercial for Qwest high speed internet boasted 7 mbps. What do these numbers mean?

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David Hill 3 years, 5 months ago

Kevin, That is most likely the design speed of wireless connection hardware. While it may be capable of operating at 54 Mbps, your actual Internet connection speed will be much less. Try connecting to a site such as Speedtest.net which will actually test the upload and download speed of your Internet connection.

Would be interested to know what speeds others are actually able to obtain. Our condo association is considering various options for our Internet service so hearing what others are actually achieving would be helpful.

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Brian Smith 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm location neutral as well, and am on the computer all day long. The speed I have now is acceptable, but it sure would be nice if it was faster. Sometimes uploading and downloading/uploading large files takes up much of the day at the speeds I have now. Speedtest 7.21 down 1.07 up

On top of internet speed being important for me as location neutral, HDN is a must for me flying in and out.

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Carrie Requist 3 years, 5 months ago

We have been working location neutral for the 11 years that we have lived in Steamboat, starting with a dial up connection, which was quite a shock coming from the tech world of the SF Bay Area. The improvements in that time have been great and have allowed us to continue to work location neutral and even allowed me to pursue my graduate degree through Penn State online, something I could not have done from here a decade ago. However, Steamboat and especially the rest of Routt County still have reliability and robustness issues that put us at a disadvantage. One thing to keep in mind is not just that better infrastructure will attract more location neutral workers (people working for companies outside of Steamboat), but that better infrastructure will allow for people living in Steamboat/Routt County to start companies that are location neutral - basing their businesses here and hiring anywhere in the world.

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rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

Well twiddle my bits. My Qwest just tested at 1.0 down, 0.73 up. Huh. I guess that reveals just how low-tech I really am. My application relies mostly on PHP and HTML text files, database tables, and simple graphics -- no audio or video, or other time- and space-eating gizmos. Speed has never been a major concern for me. My downloader always reports in Kb/sec, and I'm too lazy to make the conversion. I'm a programmer, dammit, not a repair technician.

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rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

Our Qwest broadband in Phoenix last winter (Goodyear) was no faster than here, and sometimes doggedly slower.

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rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

we're talking b/s (that's BITS PER SECOND, not what you thought) where 908 sucked.

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rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

Not to beg the issue; I'll let it go after this. But there are very practical and very local concerns which WILL inherently limit the potential of the broadband available to you at any given moment. The local network would be one of those, not just your household one, but the regional ones assigned by the IP Gods. Your neighbor downloading a movie will probably reduce your allotment. Everybody knows it's fastest late at night. Happens in AZ; happens here.

The other concern is purely a physical one -- the location of the router, in the case of wireless. I know the range is supposed to be around 300', but physical impediments can hamper this greatly. Why, just last winter in AZ, I noticed a perceptible degradation in response time, between my office with the router, and the outdoor patio 15 feet away and one floor below. I couldn't believe it took those little waves an extra heartbeat to get here; maybe they had to jump up through the window. Ain't much better at the local hotel where I worked, or so some of the guests told me.

All I'm saying is, there can be MANY reasons for a slow Internet response. At such times, I try to imagine the little Internet messengers, each passing off his little data package, so many piling up, and I thank him, hoping he didn't just go out for coffee.

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exduffer 3 years, 5 months ago

10.8 down, 4.2Mbps up. B+ national, A- global, on an one year old computer.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

There is no good reason this region is stuck with the comparatively slower speeds. SB has similar high incomes of many other areas that have far better service options.

Qwest somehow still doesn't even offer DSL in Oak Creek.

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Kevin Nerney 3 years, 5 months ago

8.85 down 4.80 up on comcast on 5 yr old dell laptop. Thanks Trafficman

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Kevin Nerney 3 years, 5 months ago

My desktop is a 10 yr old dell and the speed test reveals a 17.36 download speed and an upload # of 3.71 For your information.

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exduffer 3 years, 5 months ago

Just to set things straight, if you need certain infrastructure to run a business it is not location neutral.

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rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

Like I said, I just do maintenance from here. I could do that on dial-up. My business doesn't live here. Am I "location-neutral?"

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David Hill 3 years, 5 months ago

Nice to hear that Comcast is able to deliver some fairly decent speeds with their service in Steamboat. Thanks for all the data points that have been shared. Will be helpful as our condo associate evaluates the various options available to us.

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Kristen Feiges 3 years, 5 months ago

6.9 down .69 up on qwest ouch! thanks for the feedback.

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