Room has power to change broadband access in Steamboat, Routt County | SteamboatToday.com

Room has power to change broadband access in Steamboat, Routt County

Michael Schrantz

Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern speaks at a ribbon cutting Tuesday afternoon for a carrier-neutral location in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center in Steamboat Springs.

— Several feet above where coal was once shoveled into an old boiler room in the Steamboat Springs School District administrative building now sits a room that has the potential to reshape broadband access in the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County.

Members of the Northwest Colorado Broadband co-op and other public and private organizations gathered Tuesday afternoon to dedicate the room, known as a carrier-neutral location, that is the product of two-and-a-half years of hard work.

Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern described the uphill battle the interested organizations faced in making the location a reality and how daunting the task looked at the start.

"Man, we're toast," Kern said to himself after a particularly disheartening meeting with various providers and users. "But, we just kept at it."

The carrier-neutral location initially is enabling the school district, the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County to pay far less for more connectivity, but the hope is that the effects will trickle down to customers large and small across the region.

A carrier-neutral location is a space owned by a disinterested third party where broadband providers can install equipment to connect to one another. In the case of the new CNL in the school district's building, the space will allow Northwest Colorado Broadband to connect to the newest middle-mile broadband provider in town: Mammoth Networks.

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The middle mile is a segment of network infrastructure between the backbone of the Internet and last-mile providers, which serve individual customers.

Until now, the only true middle-mile provider in Steamboat Springs has been CenturyLink, which owned the fiber optic lines out of town.

Mammoth Networks' expanded presence in Steamboat will allow it to compete with CenturyLink to provided middle-mile services to local Internet service providers as well as provide drastically less expensive connectivity to the large, institutional customers grouped under Northwest Colorado Broadband.

In addition to the three entities now receiving services under the agreement, Yampa Valley Medical Center and Yampa Valley Electric Association plan to join in the next phase, further aggregating the institutional broadband demand and the negotiating power that goes along with that.

The agreement with Mammoth Networks allows the school district to pay $6.80 per megabit per second per month, according to technology director Tim Miles. The district was paying $23 per Mbps from CenturyLink, and a year ago, that figure was $100 per Mbps.

That cost savings allows the district to purchase the amount of service it has needed rather than being limited by what it could afford: an increase from 300 Mbps to 700 Mbps.

For Miles, that means he can spend less time actively managing the district's Internet connection, which meant prioritizing traffic across the schools and throttling uses deemed less important. State testing alone, Miles said, took up 200 Mbps, and that was only for the part of the student body testing at one time.

Not only will the district be able to allow the full, unfettered use of its current technology resources, but it will be better positioned to take advantage of whatever comes next, Miles said.

The city and county will each get 150 Mbps, which also are drastic improvements to their connections, filling out the 1 gigabit per second currently secured by Northwest Colorado Broadband.

Evan Biagi, of Mammoth Networks, said his company can easily scale the connection to 10 Gbps and beyond.

The institutional customers involved with Northwest Colorado Broadband allow Mammoth Networks to purchase the services it needs at higher tiers, essentially getting a bulk discount, and pass that savings on to users in Steamboat, Biagi said.

Mammoth Networks' current middle-mile connection runs to the east, but a line to the west in the form of EAGLE-Net should be coming to the CNL in a month or two, according to Miles. EAGLE-Net can provide its own services from the CNL, and Mammoth Networks has contracted with EAGLE-Net to provide redundancy if something happens to the fiber line to the east.

More competition for middle-mile services should allow last mile providers — such as Zirkel Wireless, Resort Internet and Comcast — to reduce their own costs while improving speeds, redundancy and service.

It might take some time for that to happen, as providers wait for existing contracts to expire before starting negotiations, but ultimately, Internet connections to homes and businesses alike should get cheaper and faster.

"Eventually, this room is going to help the entire community," School District Superintendent Brad Meeks said during Tuesday's event.

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz

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