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High-speed internet slowly spreads through Silverton

Forethought.net offers new service to mountain town
Fiber-optic lines such as these have dramatically increased internet speed, and the Federal Communications Commission has set 25 megabits per second as the national benchmark.

Even though a fiber-optic line to Silverton was finished last winter, it has taken months for high-speed service to reach residents and businesses.

Brainstorm and its parent company, Forethought.net, started working to improve their service as soon as the fiber-optic line was complete, but it took several months for the companies to get service on the line through CenturyLink.

Last week, the companies announced high-speed service of speeds up to 100 megabits per second was available to residents and businesses, which have relied on a dated, slow microwave link for years.

CenturyLink, which owns part of the fiber-optic line, officially claims to have improved service to 20 megabits per second in most of the town, but the company is pursuing grant funding from the state to pay for more infrastructure in Silverton. The Federal Communications Commission has set 25 megabits per second as the national benchmark for internet speed.

Tests show, Silverton’s microwave link provides internet speeds in the 6 megabit per second range, said resident Anthony Edwards, who has advocated for better internet service for decades.

He is excited for the Forethought.net system and the change it promises.

“The system that they are putting out now and upgrading is going to be sufficient for 90 percent of residential use, if not 100,” he said.

A few institutions are already enjoying the new service.

The Silverton School was the first to get connected to fiber in December.

Brainstorm and Forethought.net connected San Juan County offices and Silverton Town Hall in April with a 1 gigabit per second connection, Forethought.net CEO Jawaid Bazyar said.

This is faster than residential services and helps with cloud computing.

As a result, the internet at Silverton Town Hall doesn’t fail during peak times, said Michelle Hamilton, the town’s clerk and treasurer.

Brainstorm and Forethought.net lease space from CenturyLink to provide the service to Silverton and other locations between Durango and Silverton.

The connection was made possible last year when CenturyLink and EAGLE-Net, an intergovernmental entity, signed an agreement to complete the fiber-optic connection after the EAGLE-Net project to connect the school stalled. Both organizations had installed fiber between Durango and Silverton, but the connection had not been finished.

CenturyLink told the community to expect expanded telecommunications services and high-speed internet once the fiber-optic line was complete, Edwards said.

“They told us they were going to be in the community rolling stuff out,” he said.

But that hasn’t happened.

Brainstorm and Forethought.net applied to use the line in October, Bazyar said.

“We followed the EAGLE-net project because that would change the nature of the competitive market,” he said.

He expected it to take 30 to 40 days to get connected after the link was completed in either late October or early November. But it took four months to get service through the CenturyLink fiber line, he said.

Forethought.net and Brainstorm also bought Vidion, a now-defunct Silverton cable company, in December. Vidion’s cable was connected to most homes and businesse, and the companies reasoned that would be the fastest way to get up and running, Bazyar said.

The companies are about 75 to 80 percent finished with the improved system in Silverton, Bazyar said.

The town decided to contract with Brainstorm because CenturyLink was not able to offer the town the same service, Hamilton said.

“The quote they sent me was not comparable,” she said.

However, the town is waiting for Brainstorm to finish connecting internet at other town buildings, she said.

Ultimately, the town would like to see more fiber-optic lines installed to Silverton that are not under CenturyLink ownership, she said.

“They (CenturyLink) still, sort of, have ultimate control here. ... The thought is we can create more of a fair market by running more lines,” she said.

Silverton and CenturyLink have a rocky history.

In 2000, Qwest, now known as CenturyLink, received a $37 million contract from the state to provide every county seat with a fiber-optic line. But instead of bringing fiber to Silverton, the company installed the microwave link, promising it would be an interim solution. It took EAGLE-Net’s federal grant to make progress on the project.

EAGLE-Net was awarded $100.6 million in federal grant money in September 2010 to connect Colorado schools to internet.

“Now, they (CenturyLink) are going to ask for grants to finish. This is the grand irony in all of this,” Edwards said.

In June, CenturyLink applied for $141,385 in grant funding from Colorado’s Broadband Deployment Board to improve service in Silverton as part of a larger grant application.

If CenturyLink receives the money, the work would start no later than 2017, the grant application promises.

A determination on CenturyLink’s application will be made in late September, said Jordan Beezley, who is with the executive director’s office of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, which is managing the program.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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