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Rural communities dealing with lack of internet access, small internet companies filling gap

Posted at 6:33 PM, Jan 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-02 20:35:10-05

In rural communities, it’s more difficult to get high-speed access to the internet, but companies are working to fill those gaps.

One of those companies lies in Chaffee County, Colorado, which is a small community tucked between two mountain ranges.

“The company started to serve a need that was nonexistent in a small community,” Chip White, Vice president of Business Operations for Colorado Central Telecom in Buena Vista, Colorado, said. “Over time, we have expanded to about 2,500 customers in rural Colorado.”

For these small towns, it can make all the difference. Colorado Central Telecom has been around for more than five years, providing reliable Internet for the surrounding communities -- something hundreds of small companies across the nation are trying to do in rural areas to close the gap between those who have internet access, and those who do not.

“If you don’t have access to the internet, you’re really hobbled in terms of your ability to contribute to the economy,” Maisie Ramsay with Colorado Central Telecom said.

A study by the Pew Research Center in February 2019 showed 73 percent of adults across the country used home broadband.

Broadband internet is anything faster than dial-up.

Ninety-eight percent of urban communities in the U.S. have access to broadband internet -- while only 73 percent of rural communities have access, according to a 2019 report by the FCC.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re rural or urban, the internet needs to be a 24 hour, by 7 day, by 365 day a year environment,” White said. But that can come at a price.

“It’s often very expensive for rural internet users,” Monica Stephens, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Buffalo said. “The federal government of the United States has lagged a little bit in furthering the development of this or furthering the infrastructure to these rural areas.”

She says often, she sees companies pass on the high expense of building the infrastructure to those rural communities. That’s where grants and partnerships come in.

According to Wendell Pryor, the Director of Economic Development for Chaffee County Colorado, since Colorado Central Telecom came to the area in 2011,internet capability has improved somewhere between 20 and 30 percent.

“Businesses are able to utilize the latest technology in their business practices as far as uploading information on to the internet and taking credit card,” Pryor said.

“We run our distillery off a cloud based software,” P.T. Wood explained. “Our register is cloud based also so we have to have fast internet to make that work.”

P.T. owns a distillery in Salida, Colorado. He’s also the mayor of the town.

“It’s a critical element to attract businesses to town, you have to have fast internet,” he said. “You can go around to the communities that have been able to bring in high speed internet, fiber optic, and redundancy and their economies tend to be thriving.”

As technology gets better and broadband company competition increases, so does reliable access for rural communities.

“There’s a ton of demand, the bad part is keeping up with that demand,” Ramsay said.

“People expect to have internet connectivity all the time,” Pryor said. “That’s why I think it’s important we pay attention to rural areas and help as much as we can.”