Kaye’s Corner: Thank you, fiber optic internet

MEEKER I We citizens of Rio Blanco County have our issues, but one thing we can be proud of is our state-of-the-art fiber optic internet system. Yup! Our technology is considered the go-to model. Local officials get contacted frequently to learn how other communities can get what we have.

Lest we take this convenience for granted, may I share with you what it is like to travel and survive on old fashioned systems so slow, they might as well been dial up. I remember the early internet days when phone systems carried the load and were as slow as molasses.

After a month of intermittent, extremely slow Wi-Fi services at every campground, and no service at many. I am grateful to be home where I can log on in a few seconds and virtually never suffer slow internet service or random disconnects.

So, how in the world did little Meeker and Rangely become hotspots for this new-fangled thing called “fiber optics?” Turns out, being small and remote means the mega Colorado front range organizations supplying internet options didn’t think we were big enough to be worth their investment.

Score one for the little guy. A few years ago, forward thinking community leaders made a huge commitment to alter the infrastructure and run fiber optic lines up and down our alleys with free connections to houses. As well, lines were laid to nearby communities.

What is fiber optics and why is it so great? Fiber strands, smaller than one hair, made of glass, are encased and installed below ground, thus all the trenching operations to get it going. Because it is buried, fiber optic connections are not affected by weather.

Current fiber cable is expected to last up to 100 years, does not need updating, is incredibly speedy and reliable. Get this! If you have a fiber disconnect, it is likely a dog chewing on the line or people stomping on it where it goes from the ground into your house.

Locally, we have an extremely high customer/user rate, about 85% of those eligible. In rural RBC, fiber is not yet an option due to the high costs of trenching long distances. But these connections are in the hoped-for future if funding allows.

In Rio Blanco County, our large public services such as the hospital, schools, and government (including EMS services) benefit us all without further taxes to repair or upgrade prior internet systems. Further, a central server handles all the connections, so each facility does not require its own server, maintenance, and hence more costs.

And we serve as a hub to nearby communities, a multi county support as other small, western towns ramp up to implement fiber optics. There’s also support for the new FAA system at the airport and cellular providers.

All these services are maintained by Trevor Nielsen, IT Director at RBC and his staff of five. In addition, they oversee all the additional county IT needs.

The initial install of fiber was paid for by a combination of county taxes, grants, and matching support from the State of Colorado. It is primarily a within town limits service. If you purchase a house with existing fiber connections, you get that just like the plumbing.

Via anecdotal stories, it does seem that some people have moved to Meeker because of the outstanding internet service making remote working feasible. Schoolchildren, businesses, and all of us who have shopped or communicated endlessly online during Covid should be thankful for such a reliable service. 

I recently read about the internet challenges in metro Denver and thought, small can be better. Yes, out here on the western slope, being rural and small often works in our favor.

With grateful thanks to Trevor Nielsen, IT Director and Carly Thomson, Public Affairs for Rio Blanco County and their contributions to this article.  

By KAYE SULLIVAN – Special to the Herald Times

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