The Rocky Mountains are beautiful, but they make Internet access difficult — that’s the long and short of our research on Colorado. While community networks are making some headway in providing much needed connectivity, much of the state still may only have access to fixed wireless or Satellite service.
Internet Service by Technology
We investigated Internet access in Colorado using the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 data. Many of the most rural areas of the state do not have any form of Internet access other than satellite or fixed wireless services. For our analysis, we exclusively looked into wireline Internet service because it is less weather-dependent than satellite or fixed wireless. We added county subdivisions onto our map to help readers differentiate between more urban and predominantly rural areas.
That map, however, shows only Internet service availability across the state; it does not show broadband service. The FCC redefined broadband as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload in 2015. Earlier definitions of broadband included speeds as low as 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.
DSL service, while widely available, often cannot support this latest definition of broadband. It relies on copper telephone lines, and the actual speeds customers experience are often not as fast as advertised, “up to” speeds. Cable can provide broadband speed, but its actual speed can vary in times of peak traffic, such as the early evening. Fiber is the most reliable form of Internet service. In some communities, fiber networks are providing speeds of 10 Gbps (400 times the speed of broadband).
Colorado is one of the many states that erect barriers to community networks. The state law, colloquially known as SB 152, requires public entities to hold a referendum on whether they can even study the possibility of building a community network. About 100 public entities in Colorado have passed referenda and reclaimed local control of their telecommunications future. Not all have moved forward with projects. Three electric cooperatives have also stepped up to provide a community-owned alternative to big telecom.
Meeker — Rio Blanco County operates an open access network in this city. This enables small private providers to offer service without having to pay a huge capital cost in building a network from scratch.
Rangley — Another city within Rio Blanco County’s project. The project will be a mix of Fiber-to-the-Home in urban areas and fixed wireless in rural areas.
Fiber in Some Areas
DMEA – Delta-Montrose Electric Association’s Elevate Fiber network
SECOM – Southeast Communications by the Southeast Colorado Power Association
San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative — Ciello Networks
Explore these cities on our interactive Community Networks map. It lays out every small town and city that has a publicly owned or cooperative network in the U.S.
Note About the Data
The Form 477 underlies most Internet availability maps, as it is a national publicly available dataset on Internet service. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use the form to self-report information on what kinds of services they offer and where they provide service. The FCC then releases this data every six months. The Form 477 is not perfect and is a best-case scenario for Internet service. We based our map on the most recent update at the time, December 2016 version 1.
The Form 477 is imprecise because it reports information on the census block level. Census blocks are the smallest unit of measurement for the U.S. Census, and there are more than 11 million census blocks in the nation. These census blocks are not all uniform in size or population. Rural census blocks are often noticeably larger in land area than urban census blocks. An ISP may mark an entire census block as served as long it can reasonably offer service to at least one residence in that census block. This leads to an overstatement of Internet availability.
Check out a similar analysis and map based on Form 477 data from the state of Georgia.