Our view: Realizing the dream of connectivity
May 31, 2014
Steamboat Springs — The news this week that a nondescript room in the Steamboat Springs School District administration building is about to be turned into a communications technology hub could someday help the larger community realize the holy grail of connectivity. It's a goal long sought by community leaders and location neutral workers here.
Members of the Northwest Colorado Broadband co-op are on the cusp of achieving something local political candidates long have promised, but struggled to deliver. It's well understood by local institutions and businesses in the Yampa Valley that they pay much more money for much less connectivity than do their counterparts on Colorado's Front Range. At last, that's beginning to change.
The new carrier-neutral location, or CNL, that Steamboat Today reported on this week, will allow the school district, the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County government to join forces and command a bigger chunk of bandwidth, in order to pay a lot less for it. Yampa Valley Medical Center and Yampa Valley Electric Association are next in line. The hope is that someday, the new infrastructure will allow those savings to trickle down to the rest of us.
And it turns out that there is a reason why political figures have been stymied in their efforts to deliver on campaign promises — Colorado Senate Bill 152, which became law in 2005, prevents any local government from providing advanced telecommunications services. If the law sounds like it was intended to protect industry giants, you might be correct in that assumption.
What was needed was an independent cooperative like Northwest Colorado Broadband to set up the carrier-neutral location. Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern and Steamboat School District Technology Director Tim Miles deserve the gratitude of the entire community for taking the lead and seeing this complex process through throughout the course of 2 1/2 years.
The new CNL will allow the institutions mentioned above to connect to the newest middle-mile broadband provider in town, Mammoth Networks.
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If your head spins when communications tech terms like "carrier-neutral location" and "middle mile" are tossed out, we can relate. But middle mile can simply be thought of as a segment of the network that bridges the gap between the backbone of the Internet and the Internet providers like Zirkel Wireless, which serve individual customers. And the CNL is just a room in a building, owned by an independent entity, where broadband providers can connect to one another.
It might sound hum-drum, but the implications are profound. The CNL might just prove to be the competitive lever needed to persuade Century Link to light up a fiber optic line into Steamboat from the west. That in turn would give us the redundancy we miss so badly when the fiber optic from the east goes out because of a barn fire, or a backhoe digging where it shouldn't.
Until Mammoth networks arrived on the local scene, Century Link, which owns the fiber optic lines out of town, had been the only true middle mile provider here. Now, Mammoth Networks is in a position to introduce some bandwidth competition in the local marketplace; working with a few large institutions to meet their needs allows Mammoth to become eligible for a bulk discount.
There's another benefit. The competition for middle mile services should lower the cost for last mile providers like Zirkel Wireless, Resort Internet and Comcast to see cost savings, freeing up dollars for improvements of their own.
And there's still more work to be done; we still have to count on the oft-maligned EAGLE-NET to live up to its promise to deliver a line from the west, perhaps as soon as this summer.
The wheels may continue to move slowly as we wait for all of the players to negotiate new contracts. But for the first time, there is real reason to hope that our little corner of the Rocky Mountains will be able to compete and prosper on equal footing with urban centers.