High-speed internet in Silverton pulls mining village out of digital desert – The Denver Post
The digital drought is over for Silverton.
Two years after residents in the remote San Juan County town — the county’s only town, population: 639 — celebrated the pending arrival of fiber-optic cable, they remain in the digital desert.
But next week, service provider Forethought.net and its Brainstorm Internet division will deliver 100 megabyte service to every Silverton home and business, promising the end of seemingly endless buffering that has kept the former mining village trapped in the 20th century.
“Just think how the rest of the modern world today can’t live without high-speed internet. We need it just as much as anyone else,” said Karla Safranski, a decades-long resident of the town who is trying to sell the ZE Supply hardware store she and her husband have operated since 1990. “Every potential buyer, they want to know about internet service. I have to tell them it slows us down. We are all frustrated with the slowness up here, and everyone is just anxiously awaiting when we can hook up our homes and businesses.”
Silverton’s arduous, 20-year effort to bridge the digital divide has been as reliable as dial-up. Politicians have promised. Fiber-optic cable made it only part way. Federal support faded. When the 2010 deadline for a state plan to hard-wire every county seat in Colorado with cable internet passed, Silverton remained in digital deadlock.
The isolated island of Victorian homes and shops tucked into southern Colorado’s San Juans spent the past decade relying on a microwave relay system as its sole connection to the outside world. Qwest Communications took $37 million of Colorado taxpayer money to wire the town and started burying fiber-optic wire from Durango but stopped 16 miles shy of town when it ran out money. The company erected microwave towers in 2005 and argued those towers were just as good as cable.
“Qwest was paid to build an information superhighway to Silverton, and they barely widened the existing mule trail,” county administrator Willie Tookey said in a 2010 statement announcing the county and town’s formal complaint against Qwest.
In 2013, a company called EAGLE-Net was part of a federally funded, $100.6 million effort to hard-wire all 168 of Colorado’s school districts to the Web. Still, those funds dwindled, and so did cable-laying efforts to reach the state’s loneliest schoolhouses in places such as Silverton, Naturita, Creede and Nucla.
In late 2015, after helicopters strung high-speed cables along utility power lines over Coal Bank Pass into Silverton, internet arrived in town. Small-town broadband provider Forethought, which acquired EAGLE-Net and Durango ISP Brainstorm Internet in 2013, stepped in and bought a defunct cable television provider in Silverton and started the process of providing internet to homes and businesses.
The company has leased capacity on the fiber-optic cable backbone, acquired the cable television delivery system and refurbished the cable plant.
“It really is our mission to help bring internet to these places that have been overlooked by the big guys,” said Forethought founder and chief executive Jawaid Bazyar on Friday, after spending time in Silverton enlisting new subscribers. “There are communities all over Colorado — not just in the mountains but the plains as well — that the big guys won’t invest a dollar in, but the small guys like us are willing to do that. A market like Silverton is more material to us than it is for a company like Century Link.”
High-speed internet not only will help existing businesses, such as Silverton Mountain ski area, but could draw new businesses and entrepreneurs who really can live anywhere as long as they are connected.
Lisa Branner, who, along with husband Klem, forges the wildly popular Venture Snowboards in Silverton, said high-speed internet could be a game-changer for her town. “The Silverton economy is largely tourism-based and largely seasonal. To really see this community thrive we need more year-round businesses that can support year-round residents,” Branner said. “We have so much to offer in terms of the mountain lifestyle, and now having reliable and fast internet will make it feasible for folks who work location-neutral jobs or own location-neutral businesses to move here and contribute to the economy.”