Colorado's Least Populous County Wires Itself

Ran across this interesting story out of Silverton, Colorado - where Qwest has refused to provide a reliable telecommunications connection to the least populous county in Colorado. Recall that Qwest's refusal to offer redundancy in Minnesota's most rural County led to a total communications blackout for twelve hours, shutting down public safety and businesses alike.

Silverton is the only town in rural San Juan County. The City is splitting the costs ($121K) of a new publicly owned fiber-optic loop with the County and apparently the State is offering a grant for the balance. As we emphasize time and time again, cities that move from leasing multiple lines from the incumbent to owning their network radically increase available speeds while cutting costs. Silverton estimates it will save 50% or more in its telecom expenditures. These savings will pile up over time because owning the network typically leads to decreasing costs over time whereas leasing lines offers much less control over future telecom budgets.

But perhaps the more interesting aspect of this story is that San Juan County is the only County in the state not connected with fiber-optic lines. Qwest has:

a 10-year, $37 million contract to provide high-speed connectivity to every county seat in Colorado, forming a statewide network known as the Multi-use Network, or MNT.

To save money, Qwest is using a microwave (wireless) connection for San Juan County, which is far less reliable than would be a fiber-optic connection. For such a rural area, microwave might be a good secondary connection, offering a backup in the case of a fiber cut or natural disaster. However, making that the primary connection is what happens when Qwest is calling the shots.

Qwest is not looking out for the interests of first responders, residents, or businesses in Silverton, it is looking for "a compelling business case" in their own words. And this is exactly why Qwest should not be in charge of essential infrastructure.


Qwest Garbage

Qwest uses the microwave equivalent of OC3.  Originally provided was a single DS3 over radio which they "upgraded" in 2003.  Qwest failed to persue the fiber build to Silverton, and their own written evidence supports this in plain english.

Qwest has stated the following:  When the town is virtually empty the DS3 dedicated to Internet is 50% utilized.  22 of the 28 T1's dedicated for private line use are consumed mostly by cell carriers. 10 of the 28 channels available for switch umbilicals are in use.  Very rudamentary logging and monitoring are performed, such that there is little recorded evidence of real-world performance issues.  (they do not have this lack of monitoring for billing purposes ;-)

Microwave is proven, solid technology.  However, it is finicky. The implementation that serves silverton including a passive reflector on top of a mountain, and a very susspetible tower site that is rather ill-chosen.  Furthermore Qwest strategically spent money on fiber to serve a populous ski resort area en route to Silverton, yet doesn't even use this fiber path to serve the first microwave site.

The net result is that Silverton is plagued with spotty and sporadic performance issues that frustrate business owners and residents.  Qwest contends that everything is just hunky-dory.  They're full of crap. 

Qwest contends that E911 diversity is not a requirement, and hides behind the "feasable" clause in regulatory prose to avoid building a second path to the town.

After all of this, the State of Colorado just renewed their state wide contract and approved their merger with CentruyLink.