If you’ve asked yourself this question over the past year, you are in good company. Leadville and Lake County experienced a number of outages last year and early in 2018 that have been from inconvenient to extremely dangerous, depending on your situation. While this article is too short to cover all of the topics related to internet connectivity, hopefully we can shed some light on our local situation and options for a better internet future.
The internet gets to Leadville and Lake County in four main ways. There is fiber-optic cable in the ground, cable (DSL & telephone cables), satellite and microwave signals that serve as the backhaul, or main pipe to connect us with the major connection centers in Denver, Salt Lake City and beyond. Then there is the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that sells you the connectivity to your home or office. Cell service goes from a local tower to one of the backhaul providers, the same backhaul providers that connect to the internet. This explains why we have had cell service and internet outages at the same time, because the cheapest internet service providers also provide the cheapest backhaul to cell phone carriers – they are all on the same infrastructure.
You may have also noticed that your internet slows down when there are more people in town using cell phones, as those networks often “oversubscribe” or put too many people on the same network. This is why you will see ISPs offer “up to” a certain number of Mbs, and not what the actual connection speed will be. Dedicated connections, or those that do not oversell the same service to many people cost significantly more but do exist in our community. You can find out how fast your internet actually is by searching “internet speed test.”
Traditional telephone connection is rare (currently only from CenturyLink and costs additional money), now that most carriers put telephone, internet and cable television all on the same wires connecting to the outside world. Some people who thought they had “land lines” learned that they were really internet phone connections (VOIP) when their internet went out at the same time. This is a public safety concern and triggered a meeting between Lake and Chaffee Counties to request legislation to find solutions to request prioritize connections to 911 by cell and internet carriers.
For commerce, having redundancy, meaning two or more, connections to the outside world, is critical for businesses and people working remotely. Few ISPs have true redundancy in their products. A one-day outage in Steamboat last year cost the city and businesses $700,000 in lost revenue. We have suffered similar outages and costs.
At the LLCEDC, we are working with companies to provide additional backhaul capacity and to support new internet service providers. There has been new infrastructure in the backhaul and ISP realms. Beginning in late May, we will be launching a free downtown public Wi-Fi network using two of those new products.