Thursday, April 16, 2015

Aspen News Follow-Up – Internet Service Issues in Pitkin County

A wireless icon
A wireless icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A March 27, 2015, story in the local Aspen news media about internet service issues in Pitkin County caught our attention recently.

On that date, Aspen Public Radio (APR) aired a story about the inadequacies and unreliability of rural internet service in Pitkin County:  “Rural residents say unreliable internet impacting business, academics”. In particular, it appears that some residents in Old Snowmass are having issues with slow internet speeds in that area.

Among other things, these residents complain that they are unable to access video streams usefully, and are having difficulty uploading class assignments. They recently expressed these concerns at a County Commissioner’s meeting.

The APR story states that current Colorado law and money concerns are preventing Pitkin County from becoming an internet service provider itself, so county officials are considering a public-private partnership to address these internet service complaints. A comment on the APR blog transcript mentioned that there are already at least seven other counties in Colorado that have addressed, or are addressing, the issue.

A November 5, 2014, article in the Washington Post appears to corroborate this comment. According to the Post, a 2005 state law, “… allows municipalities to provide high-speed broadband Internet if ‘an election shall be called’ and a majority of voters signs off on the idea…” The article goes on to say that several Colorado municipalities are already doing this, or are taking steps to do so, and that the following municipalities have held such elections and passed state law override measures:

Cherry Hills Village
Red Cliff
Rio Blanco County
Yuma County

What has been perhaps lost in the local and national storyline is the experience of an even closer neighbor, Glenwood Springs, which began providing municipal business internet service to that city in 2002 through its Community Broadband Network, a division of the Glenwood Springs Electric Department.

In April of 2008, and pursuant to the 2005 Colorado law (COLO. REV. STAT. § 29-27-201), city voters authorized expansion of the related fiber-optic network installed in 2002, in order to facilitate selling the services directly to homes as well. Despite garnering this approval, however, the Community Broadband Network is currently offering only “limited” residential service while it awaits costly further expansion of the broadband fiber network infrastructure itself.

According to the Aspen Times, Pitkin County is moving forward to address rural internet service issues. They are beginning this process by conducting a survey to find out what the service needs are in areas of the county such as Marble, Old Snowmass and the Frying Pan valley.

If the government-involved community broadband experience in Glenwood Springs is any indication, even if the Pitkin County internet service is put to a vote and passed by the electorate, there will still be a lot of work to be done to bring it to fruition. In the meantime, according to the March 27, 2015, APR story, at least one Old Snowmass resident says he will attempt to “…try and get the infrastructure to improve internet service without the county…”


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