Broadband in SLV could be better

ALAMOSA—Better broadband for the San Luis Valley will require cooperation, consultant Paul Recanzone said Thursday night during a public forum on the San Luis Valley Regional Broadband Plan.

“We have got to have general cooperation among the multiple entities doing broadband in the San Luis Valley,” he said.

He said the major players whose cooperation would make that happen are: the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, which has already brought fiber optics to about 5,000 addresses in the Valley; Blanca Telephone/Jade Communications, a major local broadband provider in business for 90 years; and the City of Alamosa, which is considering building broadband infrastructure.

Since Senate Bill 152 would prohibit the city’s involvement in providing broadband, Alamosa residents would have to approve a SB152 override, Recanzone explained.

When asked by Alamosa City Councilman Ty Coleman what three steps would be necessary to provide topnotch broadband throughout the San Luis Valley, Recanzone said: 1) organize a broadband steering committee, which has already occurred; 2) implement the strategic plan, which has been presented; and 3) obtain funding, which is laid out in plan. Some of those sources mentioned in the plan are the USDA Rural Utility Service funds and Colorado Department of Local Affair (DOLA.) Local jurisdictions can also raise funds through special districts.

DOLA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsored the study that Recanzone’s company OHIvey and Mid State Consultants conducted.

Recanzone said in the Valley there are some places where broadband is phenomenal and other places where it’s nonexistent.

If the Valley were to be graded for its broadband service, on some characteristics it would receive a B and in others a D-, Thursday forum attendees told Recanzone.

He explained that there are three segments of service delivery: backhaul, which would be the main distribution into the Valley; regional distribution to points throughout the Valley; and last mile, which delivers service to individual addresses.

The last mile service most common in the Valley is DSL, Recanzone said. It is predominant in Monte Vista and Alamosa. Other service delivery methods are fixed wireless; cable/coaxial cable; and fiber optic cables. REC and Jade have installed fiber optic cables, he said.

Recanzone described it like this: DSL is like a good-sized drinking straw, coaxial is like a 4-foot pipe under the road, and fiber is like the Hoover Dam.

In addition to talking about the delivery systems, he outlined five characteristics to measure the quality of broadband: availability; affordability; abundance; reliability; and financial stability.

Availability means “can you get broadband at your address?” Is it available from more than one provider?

“Competition in broadband is like competition in anything,” Recanzone said. “Generally speaking if it’s financially sustainable, it helps to encourage innovation and reduces costs.”

He added, “To get A+ you have to have multiple service providers available at your address, perhaps multiple types of delivery like fixed wireless and fiber, even better if there’s competition in the same technology.”

Availability in the Valley right now is at a C-.

Affordability, compared to national averages, is about a B in the Valley. Recanzone said the national average per month for internet service, broadband is currently $57, and it is generally higher than that in the Valley.

In terms of abundance, the Valley gets a D-.

“Can you get gigabyte service?” Recanzone asked. “There are many communities in Colorado where you can’t and some in the San Luis Valley where you can.”

Just meeting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) definition for broadband (25/3 Mbps) is not abundant, Recanzone added. That is the minimum standard.

In terms of reliability — “is your service there when you want to use it?” — The Valley gets C+/B-, depending on where people live and what providers they have.

He talked about the five 9’s standard, which means 99.999 percent of the time, the system is on. Fewer “9’s” means more down time.

Another major point Recanzone made was the importance to have redundancy in the backhaul and regional distribution. If everything depends on La Veta as a distribution point, and that area goes down, everyone goes down, he explained.

Recanzone commended REC and Jade for accomplishing some redundancy.

He said it was a shame that instead of working together to use existing networks and piece them together, companies in the past have not cooperated, which has meant that some fiber optics have been laid almost on top of others.

“One of the most frustrating things I find about the San Luis Valley,” he said, “is La Veta Pass where I know are three separate fiber networks that run on that road and I think there’s a fourth one there for the National Security Agency. It’s an inefficient build.”

He said customers might not realize how capital intensive building infrastructure can be.
“It is not cheap to do this.”

For example, to bring a fiber optics network into the City of Alamosa would cost $1,100 per every single address to construct that network and $1,100 additionally to connect each subscriber to that network. Multiplying $2,200 per address, “you are talking substantial capital expenditure,” he said.

Rio Blanca County, which had lower grades than the Valley, was fortunate to have a pot of oil and gas money it could use to build broadband infrastructure, and it now has high quality broadband available to every single address in the county.

Since the Valley does not have excess funds like that, it will have to seek as many grant sources as possible, Recanzone said, such as DOLA grants.

He concluded, “The cream of the crop solution, the number one thing that you should do is regionally build infrastructure with multiple competing providers. Is there a path to make that happen in the Valley? You have to create your own model.”