Opinion | Susan Knopf: Broadband boom | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: Broadband boom

Susan Knopf
For the Record

If you really want to grow the Summit County economy, or any of our mountain town economies, it’s all about the broadband.

I read Sawyer D’Argonne’s story regarding Frisco’s community plan. (“Frisco adopts 2019 Community Plan with housing, environment and community character in mind,” published Aug. 23 in the Summit Daily News.) Great idea to improve public infrastructure. Economically speaking, the best performing infrastructure is broadband. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, broadband creates an ultimate economic growth rate of 4% to more than 5%. That’s more than double the second quarter growth rate reported by the federal government.

“Funding this is no different than building a highway or a school,” said Nate Walowitz, regional broadband director for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

“It’s an essential service for life; as much as satellite can provide, it just doesn’t cut it,” Walowitz said.

Amen to that. I live in rural Summit County. Satellite service — or more specifically the snail-like upload and download internet speed — is our No. 1 complaint. It’s the No. 1 complaint of visiting family and friends. More importantly, it’s hurting business.

Good news: Thor is coming to the rescue, or almost. Thor — not to be confused with the Norse god of thunder of Marvel comic book fame — is a cooperative middle mile “backbone” broadband support network.

Walowitz said it will be up in November, just a few months away. According to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments website, it’s “a carrier grade 100 gigabyte 178 mile fiber” loop.

To get on the loop, we still need smaller companies to step up and hook up businesses and individuals. The loop will connect 10 towns and counties from Denver, to Georgetown, Frisco, Vail, Eagle, Glenwood Springs, Craig, Steamboat Springs and back to Denver. Other Summit County towns will be connected by other carriers.

This middle mile backbone enables the towns to work with local service providers to develop “affordable local broadband improvements.” Walowitz said more than one company already is negotiating with local Summit County governments to provide us the long awaited service upgrade.

The town of Breckenridge already is partnering with Allo Communications to build its own hard wired local fiber optic network to connect to Thor. Breck’s website says its Fiber 9600 project will take residents from the “communications ice age” and propel businesses and individuals “light years ahead.” The site touts, “Fiber is far more reliable, easier to maintain, and has significant longevity. A fiber network is flexible and robust to handle future technology changes.”

Breck assistant town manager Shannon Haynes said Fiber 9600 will take four to five years to complete. She explains it takes time to connect underground to end users. She’s hopeful technological advancement could produce a wireless broadband access for end users and thus speed up access to this vital resource.

If you want to learn more about it check out the Fiber Forum at Breck Town Center, Thursday, Sept. 12 5:30–7 p.m.

Fun fact: This most anticipated improvement in internet and cell service is coming soon from an unexpected source — the Colorado Department of Transportation. According to Walowitz, autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are rapidly driving efforts to put broadband along all highway corridors.  Autonomous vehicles require broadband support. Cool. I live in a corridor that lacks sufficient density to attract commercial interest. But it is a frequented trucking route, so I’m feeling optimistic.

Also Walowitz said as soon as Thor is launched, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is looking to expand the loop to other underserved areas. Walowitz gives credit to Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier for keeping my neighborhood high on his radar. That’ll be good news to for my rural neighbors who are dubious about government.

The Council of Governments is an Economic Development District created under the umbrella of the U.S. Economic Development Administration. It’s one of six in the state and one of 384 across the country. The broadband project is an interesting intergovernmental partnership. For the record, it’s funded 50% by the Colorado State Department of Local Affairs and 50% by our local towns and counties. That seems like a good use of my tax dollars, though I have a ranch neighbor who doesn’t have an email address, so she might not agree.

All we need now is a deceleration lane to make a turn into the neighborhood, and I think we’ll all be happy.

Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at sdnknopf@gmail.com.

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