By Leslie B. Yale, Ph.D. - Currently Celebrating My Second Year of Being Retired and Living in Estes Park
There was a little town,
Whose only fiber line went down,
As it runs up the side of a mountain.
While we now have internet in the hood
It is not very good,
And when it is bad, it is horrid.
With apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Many of my neighbors are retirees with continuing careers, though some have moved to Estes Park and have chosen to telecommute. With the recent discussion of competitive broadband in Estes Park, I thought it would be interesting to chat with my neighbors to get their thoughts on their current internet service and what they would like to see available in the near future. They all have bandwidth/availability/reliability issues that are not being met by the current internet service providers (ISPs). What follows is a compendium of their thoughts:
Several years ago, a software developer who currently runs a business with software sales in 100+ countries would not purchase his house until he had run exhaustive tests on the three of the fastest ISPs available at that time to make certain that his business needs could be met. It was a bit of a stretch that only one ISP barely made the cut. The natural beauty of the Estes Park area, the availability of hiking, climbing, wilderness, and the hope of better service in the future made the decision to purchase for him. He currently runs three different ISP connections in his home to guarantee available service at all times for his 24/7 business. He commented, “The lack of gigabit bandwidth severely limits the growth of not only businesses in Estes Park, but also limits the growth of Estes Park.”
Another neighbor, a portfolio manager, commented that he is not convinced that his current provider can maintain a highly reliable, high speed internet connection. His business needs often require the ability to download large software containing files that enable him to manipulate and analyze file contents in addition to the reliability he requires in order to make trades exactly when he desires.
A lawyer, who has recently moved his business to town, mentioned that while upload and download speeds were adequate for file management, when running his business from his home, video files were often halting and freeze-framed. He also runs two internet providers out of his home for general reliability and WiFi calling.
An oil and gas consultant relies on his cell phone and computer/iPad to Skype for video/teleconferences and business communications. He also runs two ISPs for reliability at his house because with no cell signal he is dependent on WiFi calling. He often has issues rendering high resolution graphics during video conferences and when using a remote terminal.
An engineer who was on the road for much of her career decided to telecommute from her home in Estes Park. She was frequently cut off while conducting international Skype conferences and was told by her ISP that her service was only dropped for a few microseconds. Yes, that may have been the case, but it took considerably more time to reestablish the Skype connections and return to the business of the Skype communication.
It’s not just the download speed that’s currently available that is an issue. An avid photographer is disappointed by the current upload speeds available with her high speed internet provider, as it takes hours to upload her pictures to cloud storage. A marketing director for several local businesses in Estes Park wants more speed, any faster speed, and reports that the upload speed provided by his current ISP is awful.
A former designer of artificial intelligence sensor network processors is writing a book and gathering data by doing searches on the internet. He is trying to avoid getting locked into long term contracts with the currently available ISPs in the hopes that something more reliable and faster becomes available.
A local vacation rental business owner mentioned that he has experienced outages and performance issues with both ISPs he currently uses. He referred to the service availability as “narrow band.” He runs one ISP for his home and another for his business. High speed internet is very important to renters. Frequently, guests will complain about the speeds when everyone is using a different device and all are trying to stream which overloads the capacity of the current ISPs. In addition, the rental office has opened its WiFi to renters who need to use it for work purposes.
Numerous people in our neighborhood run two ISPs for reliability as we are dependent upon WiFi calling as there is very little to no cell signal in our area. There are frequent “brownouts” when the internet service from the various providers blinks on and off or slows to unusable speeds. With little or no competition amongst internet providers in Estes Park the impetus to provide good and improved service is missing.
A Bit of History
The development of data sharing on the Internet and electricity usage have remarkable similarities. We have moved from the 2-3 amps per home in the early days to over 200 amps currently to fuel all of the appliances which we are dependent upon today to manage our daily lives: washers, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, hair dryers, furnaces, air conditioners, computers, webcams, smart thermostats, etc. Just as Edison had no idea how much the capacity demands for electrical service would grow with time, consumers using existing twisted-wire/cable ISPs have no idea how much internet capacity demands will grow with time. Remember, that originally, internet users were content to just view static web pages, and exchange text only emails on a green and white screen, but now internet users expect to be able to:
- Two-way video chat via Facetime, Skype, webcam,
- Stream YouTube videos and music,
- Stream full length movies in HD and 4K (Gigabytes of information and HD TVs are no longer sold, only 4K),
- Continuously stream video from half a dozen security webcams,
- Up/download high resolution images,
- Up/download software ranging from 100Mb to 5 Gb+,
- Up/download to or from cloud storage,
- Run web applications,
- Use desktop virtualization
- Have clear sounding Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phones—no scratchy sounds,
- Support Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
- Access smart home devices while at home or away (thermostats, weather stations, alarm systems, in home cameras)
- Access Medical monitoring devices
- And do all of the above and more all at the same time.
Bandwidth is not simply the speed that the ISP lists as available for your service. Speed is the measurement of how fast things can be done—it is the transfer rate. Whereas, bandwidth is a capacity—a measure of how much data can be transferred at any one time. Current providers can promise 5 to 60 Mbps of speed, but because of bandwidth limitations the user often only gets 10-20% of that at certain times of the day, certain high demand times of the year, and the current infrastructure available at their location. Increased use of the internet by residents and tourists will only tax the limited bandwidth which will result in reduced effective speeds.
Current ISPs run off old infrastructure cable and/or twisted wire technologies which are showing their age. To match this growing internet capacity demand, it is very important to the growth and economic development of Estes Park to have a fiber optic network in place that is prepared the match the growth and bandwidth requirements of the future.
One of the engineers in the neighborhood stated that, “This is one of the key reasons why we need a reliable fiber optic backbone. Fiber is inherently more reliable, fiber is less affected by heat, fiber is less affected by electromagnetic interference, fiber has fewer electrical components, doesn't have signal loss, or last mile issues, fiber has sufficient bandwidth to avoid many of the issues faced today, and equally important if managed as part of Estes Park power, would introduce competition, and have local support.”