The La Plata County Economic Development Alliance held its 6th annual Economic Summit Oct. 24 at the Sky Ute Event center in Ignacio. It reinforced the critical importance of widely available and affordable Internet access at true broadband speeds.
That should be the focus of any economic development efforts, in or out, of government. And what that means needs to be understood in our competitors’ terms.
The problems are daunting in a sparsely populated and relatively remote area such as Southwest Colorado. The economies of scale in urban areas do not apply and the cost per customer can be extreme.
At the same time, though, that very remoteness elevates the importance of broadband connections. Video conferences can replace a time-consuming drive or a pricey plane ticket. And the kind of businesses that do not need urban infrastructure are precisely those that most need broadband.
Above all, the Internet is simply how we live now. It is how people communicate and do business.
At Congress’ insistence, the Federal Communications Commission has created a National Broadband Plan. It puts the importance of connectivity in clear terms: “Like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.”
Part of the problem, however, is the way we have been sold “broadband.” Too often, the word is applied to any Internet connection beyond dial-up. Its meaning needs to be standardized – and our expectations greatly increased.
In its standard service, Optimum, the cable company that serves Durango, advertises download speeds of “up to” 15 megabits per second with “up to” 2 mbps uploads. Real experience usually is less.
The FCC plan targets “actual download speeds of 100 Mbps and actual upload speeds of at least 50 Mbps.” Nations in Europe and Asia already are implementing plans for universal Internet access with speeds like that. And if we allow the FCC plan to languish and continue to define broadband as a fraction of what other nations have, we also can expect them to eat our lunch.
It falls to local governments, businesses and civic groups to insist on true high-speed access — just as they would for highways, airports or any of the 20th-century infrastructure we rely on. We cannot count on Washington or Denver to connect Durango.