Results from a survey conducted by the Northwestern Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) recently revealed a larger picture of broadband service in the region.
Data from a speed test and survey completed by residents of eight counties — Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit — and the city of Glenwood Springs and town of Carbondale resulted in a regional strategic broadband plan.
The Department of Local Affairs awarded a $65,000 grant through the Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund to NWCCOG for the strategic plan to improve broadband capacity development.
Liz Mullen, NWCCOG executive director, said while there are no specific action items in the strategic plan, the next step is to hire a broadband coordinator to help work on the results.
“There was more fiber in the ground than we thought,” she said. “We’re looking at ways to capitalize on that infrastructure that’s in place and build off that to best benefit the region.”
Broadband speeds are delivered over airwaves with fixed and mobile wireless, using a variety of DSL technology, cable companies’ networks and fiber optic cabling.
Byron Rice, information systems director for Summit County, said there are identified areas of Summit County, such as Blue River, that do not have the necessary broadband capabilities.
“There are pockets of underserved or un-served people in Summit County,” he said. “That’s a big public safety concern in my mind. But we’re fortunate to be on the I-70 corridor, as a resort community, we have pretty good service compared to some more rural counties.”
However, Rice said, sometimes those visitors are the reason why speeds are slow on busy weekends.
“On strong tourist weekends when everyone is using their smart phone or tablet or making cell phone calls, it creates a lot of stress for our infrastructure,” he said.
The plan reports that where service is available, residential subscribers in northwest Colorado pay prices similar to those paid by subscribers on the Front Range. The two largest broadband providers in the region — Comcast and CenturyLink — offer the same residential package pricing on both sides of the Rockies.
Where wireless is the only available option, subscribers tend to pay more per megabites per second (Mbps) than wireline subscribers. Satellite subscribers pay significantly more for service than wireless or wireline subscribers.
“People always want faster service for less money,” Rice said. “It’s improved over the two decades I’ve been here, but it can certainly be better.”
The strategic plan also specifically mentions that the northern half of Summit County, from just north of Silverthorne to Kremmling along Colorado Highway 9, is a very sparsely populated area with almost no service.
“People are anxious to know exactly when we’re bringing broadband to their house,” Mullen said. “These results illustrate how broad and diverse our region is, and the issues are equally broad and diverse. It’s a massive undertaking for such a large area.”
People who took the survey also left comments on priority issues for their area. In Summit County, anonymous respondents appeared split between satisfaction with current service, and frustration over costs and availability.
“Consistency is a high priority and right now Comcast service is very sketchy. Extremely frustrating for business,” one local wrote.
In the results, download speeds are divided into three service tiers — fast, medium and slow. Of the 10 total areas surveyed, Summit County was one of the fastest, with about 55 percent of people having “fast” service, close to where Carbondale and Pitkin also fell. Rio Blanco and Routt were the two areas with the slowest speeds.
“We want to get the service providers to play together for the betterment of the community as a whole,” Rice said. “It’s a work in progress for sure, there’s no silver bullet. There’s a nice awareness starting to swell to get rural broadband throughout Colorado.”