Tracy McCracken, owner of Valley Feed and Ranch Supply in Gem Village, is looking forward to the end of September – when she expects to merge onto the information superhighway after struggling for years with patchwork internet service.
FastTrack Communication expects to have a fiber-optic line in place and ready for Gem Village businesses to hook up to by the end of the month.
McCracken said she can’t count the number of times her credit card processing has gone down, affected by everything from the weather to peak internet loads.
“Rain, snow, any weather really. Our line has been up and down. It’s ridiculous,” McCracken said.
Along with faster internet speeds, McCracken, who said her building is in a depression and has poor cellphone service as well, will get four phone land lines along with the internet service.
Valley Feed and Ranch’s monthly cost for internet and phone service, she said, will be lower than her current monthly costs through CenturyLink and HiSpeed4U, another internet service provider.
McCracken said she has used two internet service providers in an attempt to provide more reliable internet for her business.
Rich Hiller, a co-owner of Southwest Ag in Gem Village, also is looking forward to a more robust and faster internet link. “I don’t think we’ve ever been down for a day, but we do go down, and there are slowdowns nowadays – payment processing, ordering, everything is done through the internet, so it can be tough,” he said.
Kelly Hebbard, general manager of FastTrack, said the mission of the firm, which is owned by La Plata Electric Association and Empire Electric, is to bring fiber-optic lines to businesses in rural parts of the service area of the two electricity providers.
“We’ve been speaking to rural business owners in several areas, Gem Village being one, about their needs for fast-speed internet,” she said. “This will help Gem Village businesses grow and it will help with economic development in the area.”
Hebbard said many businesses in Gem Village have been using two or three different internet service providers.
When Gem Village businesses are hooked up, Hebbard said they could see upload and download speeds of up to 100 megabytes. Most businesses are expected to choose packages delivering 10 to 25 megabytes.
The fiber-optic line should also improve Gem Village’s telephone service, she said.
Hebbard said FastTrack is working out monthly rates, and they will not have to pay for the cost of laying fiber-optic line to the area.
Businesses will be charged only a monthly service rate.
Once the fiber-optic line is in place, Hebbard said, other ISPs that service private homes can come in and use the network to service residences with the faster fiber-optic network.
The biggest obstacle to bringing fiber-optic lines to rural areas, Hebbard said, is getting right-of-way agreements with landowners.
One landowner who objects can force reroutes that drive up costs.
“We tell them it is for economic development, and, as a whole, people are generally cooperative,” she said. “We say: ‘If you can help us, the better off we all are.’”
Another problem that drives up costs to expand fiber-optic networks in Southwest Colorado is the rocky ground. Sometimes, lines must be buried instead of going the cheaper route – overhead through existing electric lines.
“Going underground is just a challenge in our terrain,” Hebbard said.
FastTrack has also brought fiber-optic lines to Mancos and Dolores, and it is looking to spread to more rural areas.
The Gem Village project, she said, will be the biggest expansion of the year for FastTrack.
“We’re really excited to spread our network to that area and make a difference to the businesses out there,” she said.
Hiller was unsure what Southwest Ag’s monthly cost for faster internet would be, but he said he’s looking forward to an upgrade that promises to bring him speeds 20 times faster than he currently sees in addition to a more reliable network.
McCracken said she’s looking forward to having internet that doesn’t slow down when the neighborhood kids are out of school.
“During summer,” she said, “you’d want to tell the kids, ‘get off the couch. Go outside and play.’”