Improved internet services could be available to Southwest Colorado’s rural residents over the next 10 years thanks to a $6.7 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission.
Viasat, a satellite internet provider, received the grant last week to serve thousands of homes and businesses not reached during a previous grant cycle. The service is intended to reach 5,772 homes and business in Archuleta County, 65 in La Plata County and six in Montezuma County.
The locations in La Plata County that should receive improved services are northwest of Durango and in southern La Plata County.
“In Colorado and across the nation, we’re continuing to close the digital divide so that all Americans – no matter where they live – have access to affordable broadband connectivity and the digital opportunity it brings,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in a news release.
La Plata County resident Helen Ruth Aspaas is among those still waiting for affordable internet.
“It’s so frustrating,” she said.
CenturyLink workers came out to her house on Colorado Highway 140 about a mile south of the Old Fort to set up an internet connection, but it never worked, and ultimately, the company gave her a refund, she said.
She has also looked into wireless internet service, but was not able to find a provider, she said. So she relies on library internet service at Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary School or the Durango Public Library.
“Would you be happy if you had to drive 6 miles? Would you be happy if you had to drive 17 miles (for internet)?” she said.
Aspaas said she had not investigated satellite service, but she worried about the reliability of the connection.
Satellite internet services tend to be slow and come with caps on the amount of data customers can use, said Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments. The council works on regional internet infrastructure projects.
“Those people who currently use satellite tend to have challenges,” she said. “... It’s not known for being the most robust.”
Satellite service can be used to reach rural areas, but it is not the best delivery model, she said.
In Southwest Colorado, AlignTech, Visionary Broadband and other wireless internet providers have reached some rural communities with limited internet service options.
Wireless internet, which can be provided via tower, is often preferable to satellite service because it doesn’t have the tendency to lag, and it is far easier to upgrade as technology changes, Gillow-Wiles said.
However, requirements for FCC funding are so stringent it would have been tough for small, local wireless companies to compete for funding, she said.
La Plata County resident Nona Dale has also been unable to find a reliable internet service provider at her home in the Sunnyside Valley. So, she relies on a cellular hot spot via her phone. She appreciates that she can take her internet connection wherever she goes, but if she uses the hotspot to surf the web on her laptop, it eats up her monthly data allowance fairly quickly, she said. She would like to see better internet services options for rural residents.
“It needs to be for everybody and not just for the city,” she said about quality internet service.
A map of areas that received FCC funding can be found at https://bit.ly/2tUvoss.