If a car dealer agreed to deliver a brand new pickup truck but showed up with a sub-compact sedan, no buyer would accept the substitution. Why then should Silverton go along with the idea that, alone among Colorados county seats, it does not get to have the fiber-optic connection it was promised?
A two-day hearing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in Silverton about the issue is set to conclude today. And the PUC should take Silvertons complaint to heart. It is unfair that a major company would dismiss a town just because it is small and isolated.
Silverton and San Juan County are understandably unhappy with Qwest about the lack of a fiber-optic link. The company agreed in 2000 to a $37 million contract with the state to run fiber-optic cable to every county seat in Colorado by 2005. And it did just that except for Silverton.
That is just not right.
Qwest did string fiber optics as far as Cascade Village, an inexplicable place to stop 16 miles south of Silverton. Qwest said it halted because it could not obtain further rights of way.
But it apparently never explored one obvious alternative the right of way of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The railroad has said it would be interested in talking, but in 2009, four years after the job was supposed to have been completed, Jeff Jackson, the railroads vice president, said the D&SNG had never been approached by Qwest.
Instead, Qwest set up a microwave-radio connection that it says provides high-speed connectivity. But high-speed is a term of art. The Qwest connection offers speeds up to 7 megabits per second, but Silverton residents say the overall bandwidth is limited.
In any case, 7 megabits, while considered blazing fast a few years ago, is not today. School District 9-R is upgrading its connectivity to get 25 megabits per second. Other nations are aiming at establishing national standards of speeds of 40, 60, even 100 megabits per second.
Speeds like those are what will enable the full capability of the Internet and make features like streaming movies and video conferencing both effective and ubiquitous. And it is places like Silverton that can be hard to get to that can benefit the most from better connectivity. Not just entertainment but legal services, medical help, emergency services and business can all benefit.
In the 19th century, small towns feared being bypassed by the railroads. In the 1950s, their worry was the Interstate Highway System. Now no one wants to be left behind on the information superhighway.
And Silverton should not be. Qwest agreed to run fiber-optic cable to all Colorado county seats. It should be held to it.