Yampa Valley calling area soon to expand

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Natural gas bills are going up, electric bills are on the rise and a gallon of gasoline costs enough to make people think about taking the bus. Wouldn't it be nice to see a drop in something?

It's coming. People who make frequent calls to Steamboat Springs may see a dramatic drop in their phone bill soon.

Terry Bote, spokesperson for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, said Craig and Steamboat Springs will be sharing a local calling area soon, making calls between the two cities free of long distance charges.

The project has been in the works for some time. Originally calls to Steamboat Springs were supposed to be free of charge beginning in January, 2001, but according to Bote, Qwest Communications, the company building the fiber optic connection between Craig and Steamboat Springs that makes it possible for the two cities to share a local calling area, ran into some construction delays.

"From what I understand, they had to add some additional fiber and some additional facilities and I think it took a little longer than expected," Bote said.

Qwest Communications will notify customers via the mail of when calls between the two cities will switch from long distance to local charges according to Bote.

The elimination of long distance charges to Steamboat Springs will not only benefit Craig residents with friends and family in Steamboat Springs, but many businesses with ties to Steamboat Springs will see positive effects from the transition to local calling.

Kalea Harris, secretary for Aqua Vita Spas in Craig, said they make calls to their sister store in Steamboat Springs constantly, making their phone bill extremely high. Not only will making calls to Steamboat Springs a local call take a bite out of Aqua Vita Spas phone bill, but Harris believes it will help increase sales also. The store in Craig and the store in Steamboat Springs often trade salesmen for periods of a time. Harris believes the long distance charges to Steamboat Springs are enough of a deterrent that people refuse to call the Steamboat Springs store to finish purchases with their salesmen.

"We lose a lot of customers who don't like calling our other store," Harris said. "Right now we're probably losing a lot of business due to it."

Dan Ellison, Routt County Commissioner, said there is so much overlap between people who live in Craig and work in Steamboat Springs and the other towns like Yampa and Oak Creek. Taking away the long distance charges will not only benefit business but will help the Northwestern Colorado Community as a whole.

"We are all really one community up here," Ellison said. "I think it will be good economically and for family life."

Ellison used an example of Twenty Mile Coal Mine. He said 60 percent of the employees at the mine live in Moffat County. This means that a call from home to work is a long distance call for these employees. Ellison said by eliminating long distance charges communication between family members will be more convenient.

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