Our View: City’s new 'smart' water meters

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Editorial Board, August through January 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Shannon Lukens, community representative
  • Scott Ford, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

Water conservation is smart. So is increased efficiency, both in terms of water usage and city government’s oversight of its water utility. Adapting new technologies to accomplish all of the above is smart, too.

What’s not smart is moving forward with a project that could hurt other important areas of development for our community. It’s for that reason the city of Steamboat Springs should reconsider the specifics of its

$1 million contract with Ferguson Waterworks, Datamatic and RG-3 Utilities to install so-called smart water meters at every home and business that taps into the city’s municipal water supply.

The problem with the city’s contract is that it calls for the new water meters to run on a public spectrum of the 900 megahertz frequency. It’s cheaper to use an unlicensed frequency — it saved the city about $250,000, officials said — but it also increases the likelihood that the meters will interfere with the high-speed wireless internet connections of some residents and businesses in the area.

That concern led the owners of two local wireless internet service providers, Resort Broadband and Zirkel Wireless, to call a meeting with city officials last week. The internet service providers say having all those meters running on the unlicensed 900 mhz frequency is likely to interfere with signals for at least 150 of their customers.

City Manager Jon Roberts said the city did its homework before signing the contract, and that any issues would be resolved through a guarantee clause in the deal. He also emphasized that the city is committed to enhancing broadband services in the community, not interrupting them.

While 150 customers might not seem like a lot, there’s also concern that future technology and devices could lead to additional traffic — and thus interference — on the 900 mhz band. The city’s existing water meters lasted 25 years; if one were to expect a similar lifespan for the new meters, the city is putting a lot of faith in the long-term reliability of an unlicensed frequency and a guarantee clause in its contract.

Also alarming is that the city risks moving forward with a project that could run counter to its stated goals of aiding economic development and technology infrastructure. As the city and other economic-minded groups look to market Steamboat as an ideal setting for location-neutral businesses, the move to use an unlicensed frequency for its new water meter system could prove to be an embarrassing obstacle.

Work began last week on installing the new meters, a process that is expected to take many months. It’s not too late for the city to re-examine its options and perhaps switch gears on a project that might not be so smart after all.

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