The 21st century dream of living in the mountains while telecommuting to work is tantalizingly out of reach for residents of Red Feather Lakes.
The dream can only become reality with reliable telephone service and high-speed Internet connections – two things residents say are not being delivered by CenturyLink.
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“It costs me time and money,” said Lon Hughes, whose office for Summit Real Estate and Marketing is in Red Feather Lakes Village. “The standard Colorado contract to purchase is 16 pages, and I have to take it apart and email it in three separate files. CenturyLink promised us DSL speeds of 1.5Mps, but I’m lucky to get 1.2 incoming and it’s more like 0.5 outgoing.”
Deben Tobias, finance director of the Shambala Mountain Center outside of town, said telephone service is “hit or miss. Calls go to the wrong extension or they don’t go through at all. This lack of reliability is affecting our business and, as a result, affects Northern Colorado’s tourist trade.”
The Red Feather Lakes Planning Advisory Committee has identified the need to improve and enhance the speed and quality of Internet access as a priority. Numerous citizens have voiced their frustrations to the PAC over the past few months, including what they say is a lack of interest by CenturyLink in investing in the area.
“There are no alternatives, except maybe a high-powered satellite phone, which is beyond the financial reach of people up here,” Tobias said.
That frustration boiled over into a plea by the PAC to the Larimer County Commissioners for help. Senior Planner Rob Helmick, liaison to the PAC, presented a memo outlining the concerns at the April 17 commissioners meeting.
“The members of the PAC respectfully request the Board of County Commissioners communicate with both CenturyLink and the Public Utilities Commission to place an official voice to the concerns of the citizens of Red Feather Lakes,” the memo said.
The memo included a list of organizations affected by the poor service, including the fire districts, Soaring Eagle Ecology Center, the library, post office, all businesses, Fox Acres, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Shambala and homeowners associations in Crystal Lakes and Glacier View Meadows.
Helmick pointed out to the commissioners that it does not include the Red Feather elementary school, which is connected to the Poudre School District broadband backbone.
Commissioner Lew Gaiter III, who represents Red Feather as part of District 1, said at the meeting that he had heard from local residents that expanded cell service would be a help. While it is not part of the current proposal for a Middle Bald Mountain emergency communications tower, Gaiter said adding commercial transmitters could be considered, if residents request it during the comment phase.
Hughes, who reports excellent cell service from the Verizon tower in Fox Acres, said that might be an idea worth considering.
“I’ve already had people decide not to move here because they can’t work from their homes,” said Hughes, who also chairs the PAC. “That affects the real estate market, then you have fewer people shopping at the mom-and-pops, and pretty soon you don’t have a community.”
The commissioners directed Helmick to do additional research with the PUC on CenturyLink, as well as whether assistance might be available from the state’s new EAGLE-Net Alliance. The initiative is using a $100 million federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program infrastructure grant to build a 4,600-mile network to serve 170 communities statewide by August 2013.