Getting high-speed Internet to rural Colorado has been an ongoing issue since the Internet was invented.
Audrey Danner, interim director of Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, laughed when she recalled the efforts she and other county leaders took to expand telephone networks in the region in 1996.
“We called it high-speed telecommunication back then,” she said.
“Back then” even making a phone call to Steamboat Springs would come with a long-distance charge.
Now, even though the county has far surpassed those technological limitations, the region still is behind urban areas that have access to several different high-speed Internet carriers for a low cost.
“There’s some rural towns that would like to bring in the service and they would like to have the authority so service providers can come in,” said Liz Mullen, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.
That’s why Mullen and NWCOG want to set up a comprehensive strategy to guarantee all communities have access to broadband.
Maybell has a need for better service, but its rural location sets up barriers that are costly and may not seem worthwhile to private providers.
It’s not just about making sure people can have access to the Internet access at their residence, Mullen said. It’s about making sure health care, emergency services and education have access to the best technology. It’s also about boosting the economy.
“Most companies will not come to a community if you do not have broadband. Even running credit cards for a small businesses is important,” she said. “If there’s no redundancy and the line gets cut, a business can’t run credit cards.”
The rural region is tackling the issue as a group to provide a stronger voice.
“We work together well and knowing that will bring better solutions,” Danner said.
NWCOG is pulling together a regional broadband strategy and will finalize the draft for their long-term plan in December. This comes along with United States senators calling on the Federal Communications Commission to invest in rural telecommunication, according to a Nov. 5 press release from Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
Mullen and Danner are confident that rural Colorado will see progress in 2014 when it comes to high-speed Internet.
“It’s a significant economic development issue,” Danner said.
Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.