Our view: Can you hear us now? | SteamboatToday.com

Back to: Opinion

Our view: Can you hear us now?

At issue: Public-private partnerships are working to help fix gaps in cell coverage.

Our view: New cellular towers that improve coverage are vital to greater Steamboat Springs, but broadband for North Routt is vexing.

 

The news this week that Verizon and Routt County are collaborating on the placement of a new 60-foot cell tower on the county's road and bridge shop on the west side of Steamboat Springs is a welcome development for office workers, construction foremen, restaurant hosts, brewers, warehouse workers and yes, cannabis entrepreneurs, all of whom often find themselves in a cellular dead zone on Steamboat's west side.

The area, comprising lower Elk River Road, U.S. Highway 40 and Downhill Drive, could be described as the fastest-growing commercial node in the city, but all too often, people trying to conduct business find themselves with one or two bars of coverage. Recently, the same neighborhood became home to The Reserves at Steamboat apartment complex, which increased the density of cellphone users almost overnight.

Strong cellular connections are essential to powering one of Steamboat's strongest commercial growth areas, and it would be an additional benefit if additional carriers opted to co-locate on the new tower. However, any issues with gaps in cell coverage on the edge of Steamboat are dwarfed by the vexing challenge of boosting broadband coverage to the growing community in North Routt County.

Steamboat Today reports in its Sunday, June 25, edition the many ways in which the digital culture has left North Routt behind, from Moonhill to Willow Creek Pass and Hahn's Peak Village.

To be clear, issues with limited broadband capacity — the service that powers the Internet — is distinct from cell phone technology. And we understand that the private sector lacks the economic incentive to extend millions of dollars in fiber optic cable to lightly populated areas such as North Routt. At the same time, we support Gov. John Hickenlooper's goal of ensuring that every Colorado resident has access to reliable high-speed internet.

The lack of reliable internet service affects home values in North Routt, makes it difficult for primary school students to turn in their homework the way their teachers would prefer and also presents challenges when applying for a job online. The lack of high-speed internet isolates state park workers and confounds luxury travelers seeking to book a stay at guest ranches. And, once vacationers arrive in the upper Elk River Valley, they struggle to check their stock portfolios and review pending contracts sent from the home office.

"Isn't that the purpose of a vacation in the Rocky Mountains, to get away from the office?" you might ask. That certainly used to be the case, but in today's wired world, more and more people with successful careers are expected to always be available. Let's be straight — connectivity is an essential part of doing business in the modern era.

Steamboat Today further reported that Routt County government is collaborating with Zirkel Wireless to facilitate the co-location of a new network infrastructure on the county's tower on Farwell Mountain in the Routt National Forest, in addition to the existing facility on Moonhill. We would encourage the Forest Service to work through some of the challenges and facilitate that approval process as much as is reasonable.

In the meantime, we can only advise North Routt residents, who regularly drive into Steamboat for employment or to grocery shop, to make the Bud Werner Memorial Library a regular part of their trips. In addition to free access to computers, the Internet and technical assistance, they'll find various means of downloading books and music into their mobile devices. There's also a collection of DVDs at the library.

But, we understand, that's not the same as streaming Hulu and Netflix.