On July 6th and 7th, much of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, lost phone and Internet when a fiber line was cut, creating a public safety hazard. In order to aviod future massive outages and improve connectivity, Steamboat Springs has decided to develop a Carrier Neutral Location or CNL, much like a similar initiative in nearby Cortez.
In July a CenturyLink fiber optic line was accidentally cut by construction crews, disrupting the 911 emergency system for about 3 hours. No calls were missed, but it is a terrifying reminder of how small towns are dependent on incumbent providers like CenturyLink for basic services.
The community, located in the northwest corner of the state and home to about 12,000 people, is known as a popular ski destination in the winter months. Locations like Steamboat Springs have a natural beauty in the rugged terrain, but incumbent providers tend to see a poor return-on-investment rather than beauty.
The July incident was not the first. In October 2011, an 8-hour outage caused a potential $1 million loss to the economy. If the outage had taken place during peak tourist season, the estimated cost would have been $1 million per hour. In order to ensure their public safety and ability to attract economic development, leaders in Steamboat Springs have decided to end the possibility of massive outage caused by a single cut by investing in a place where multiple carriers can connect.
A CNL is a space owned and maintained by a neutral party where broadband providers can connect to each other to provide redundancy. Sometimes referred to as "meet-me rooms," CNLs are especially useful for middle- and last-mile providers to connect. The facility drives down the cost of bandwidth for community anchor institutions and service providers because they do not require a separate facility for connections and fees are typically reasonable. The CNL in Steamboat Springs went online on June 1st, 2014.
In the first year, the CNL allowed the school district, the city, and the county to buy from middle-mile providers Mammoth Networks and EagleNet. Formerly, the school district paid CenturyLink $23 per Mbps per month for 300 Mbps but now purchases 700 Mbps per month for $6.80 per Mbps from ISP Mammoth.
Funding for the CNL was provided by a private donation of $125,000 and $5,000 each from the city, the county, the chamber, the school district, and the medical center for a total of $150,000. The CNL’s operating costs are about $10,500.
Northwest Colorado Broadband (NCB), a cooperative formed in 2012 includes local government, educational, utilty, and business entities from the region. The cooperative allows the project to function without running afoul of SB 152, the Colorado law passed that prevents local government from providing telecommunications services. NCB will manage the fiber connections and the CNL. By joining forces, the partners anticipate significant savings, better reliability, and access to more capcaity.
Tom Kern, CEO of the Steamboat Chamber and NCB President stated in a press release [PDF]:
This is a creative way to achieve expanded service for a significantly lower cost to critical community institutions...By consolidating demand, members will be able to obtain enormous broadband capacity at about a tenth of the cost they currently pay.
In addition to the CNL, Routt county has found a consultant to study broadband deficiencies throughout the county. The cost was partially covered by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. NCB, Steamboat Springs School District, the city of Steamboat Springs, Yampa Valley Medical Center and Yampa Valley Electric Association provided the remaining funding for the study.
For more information on Steamboat Springs and the CNL, check out Community Broadband Bits Episode 163, in which Chris interviews Tim Miles, the Technology Director at Steamboat Springs and South Routt School Districts.