If you’ve noticed a better Netflix stream lately and wondered if Durango’s internet speeds have increased, the answer is: Yes, indeed, they just may have.
If your internet speeds have not increased, there’s a good chance they soon will.
In 2018, Cedar Networks is optimistic fiber optics lines to homes will become a reality for at least some in Durango, especially for those who live downtown.
Chris Stebner, co-owner and chief business development officer for Cedar Networks, said Durango is poised to bring fiber optics to homes with the completion of an important preceding step: completing fiber optics connections to neighborhoods, or what’s called “fiber to cabinets.”
Bringing fiber into neighborhoods, Stebner said, can increase internet speeds up to 80 megabytes per second (mbps). To reach speeds from 100 mbps to 1 gigabyte requires installing fiber optics into homes.
“The challenges of fiber to the cabinet have largely been solved in Durango. In 2018, I’m optimistic on the fiber-to-homes front. It will begin happening in Durango,” Stebner said in a telephone interview.
He was in Carbondale, where Durango-based Cedar Networks is currently installing fiber optics to homes. The cost of the service, which will increase speeds to 100 mbps, to a resident in Garfield County will be $60 a month, plus a $100 installation fee.
When fiber to the home comes to Durango residents they likely will be charged the same, Stebner said.
Some La Plata County homeowners, especially those in new subdivisions, might have fiber optics to their homes already or can quickly be set up. Stebner said homes in Three Springs, Grandview, Twin Buttes, Escalante and Edgemont subdivisions are largely set to go with fiber.
In December, Spectrum Internet, which is part of Charter Communications, increased its internet speeds in Durango with packages from 60 to 100 mbps, said Brian Picciolo, director of communications with Charter. Durango customers with Spectrum Ultra received an upgrade from 100 to 300 mbps, he said.
The upgrades were accomplished without a price increase, Picciolo said. They amount to a 66 percent increase in speeds “with no change in price.”
“The end goal is fiber for everyone,” Stebner said. “You want to bring enough bandwidth for everyone.”
The speed of bringing fiber optics to homes depends on several variables – topography; existing infrastructure; funding; partnerships with utilities; and regulatory and governing structures – that vary from town to town and county to county.
Brandon Yergey, a spokesman for CenturyLink, said the biggest telecommunications operator in the region offers broadband speeds up to 100 mbps for some. He added, “We continue to evaluate opportunities to upgrade our network and provide faster speeds throughout Colorado.”
He did not say whether CenturyLink will offer fiber optics to homes in Durango.
Geography remains an obstacle for people living in rural areas. “Our costs are all costs per foot,” Stebner said.
He said providing fiber optics to a rural house separated from its neighbors by acres could be 20 times more expensive than providing the lines to homes situated in a traditional city block.
Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce, said increasing internet speeds to private homes will “absolutely” aid in attracting and retaining businesses in Durango.
“One goal of our economic alliance to improve business attraction and retention is to get high-speed internet to every rooftop in La Plata County,” he said.
He noted La Plata County ranks 19th in the nation for so-called “Lone Eagles,” people working out of their house via the internet far from their corporate offices in distant cities.
“They may work for IBM, but they work out of their home in La Plata County,” he said.
In some ways, he said La Plata County is behind the curve in providing fiber-to-home. He cited efforts now well underway by Elevate Fiber, a subsidiary of the Delta-Montrose Electric Association, with an end goal of proving 1 gigabyte per second internet service to it’s customers, many of them in outlying rural towns.
Earlier this month, the Fort Collins City Council unanimously approved sale of $150 million in bonds to finance a city-run utility to provide fiber-to-home internet service. The service aims to provide all homes in Fort Collins with internet speeds ranging from 50 mbps to 1 gbps, with prices from $50 to $70 a month to customers.
The city expects full build-out in three to four years.
The council vote came two months after 60 percent of Fort Collins’ residents voted to approve the city-run service.
Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Alliance, called Cedar Networks’ plans for Durango “heartening.”
“In an ideal world,” Zalneraitis said, “you would go looking for fiber to your home and you would get five offers from five providers offering 100 mbps.”
Max Hutcheson, a real estate agent with The Wells Group, said internet speeds are becoming a priority for home buyers. He said the Multiple Listing Service is now tracking internet speeds and internet providers as part of its home-listing service.
“The internet has become over the past five years a critical piece of what people look for and value when they look for a place to live,” he said.
Each fiber-to-home project is unique, and while density of development and distance usually trump all considerations, some rural projects can piggyback on larger projects, Stebner said.
For example, he cited a project Cedar Networks recently completed in De Beque in Mesa County.
“In De Beque, it worked in one of the poorest communities in the state. A good many homes were trailers in a trailer park. It was the density that made it possible,” he said.
The De Beque School District initiated the project, Stebner said. “The school district wanted to provide tablets for all the students and realized it didn’t make much sense without broadband to serve them.
“We figured out we were able to reach the whole town for not much more than what we were able to do to reach and serve the school,” he said.
One obstacle remaining on getting fiber optics to homes is having a total fiber network to ensure speeds aren’t slowed by older technological bottlenecks, such as a reliance on copper wires somewhere in the network.
“Ubiquitous fiber is required,” Stebner said. “Fiber-to-home is still a rare product.
“It will be 10-plus years before it is ubiquitous, and that will require a massive capital investment.”