Now, The Journal has learned that five fiber line cuts in June affected service for phone and internet customers in the Western Slope.
“Four of the outages were caused by third-party fiber cuts, and one was caused by vandalism — all issues out of our direct control,” CenturyLink’s corporate communications representative, Mark Molzen, said in an email.
The cut in Cortez on June 17 was attributed to a construction crew’s misstep. The line is owned by Tri-State Electric and leased to CenturyLink, according to Abel Chavez, the company’s director of local government affairs. It runs from Grand Junction to Albuquerque and provides the Four Corners with a connection to the rest of the world, said Rick Smith, general services director for the city of Cortez.
Molzen declined to confirm the locations, dates and causes of the fiber cuts.
Service in Cortez failed about 3 p.m. on June 17, Molzen said. CenturyLink rerouted some circuits, which restored voice services in some areas by 8:30 p.m., he said. Service was fully restored by about 10 p.m., after Tri-State Electric repaired the fiber line.
The outage affected Pagosa Springs, Dolores, Ignacio, Marvel, Cortez, Mancos, Durango, Bayfield and Silverton, Molzen said.
Telecommunications companies aren’t required to disclose publicly where they lay fiber lines, Colorado Public Utilities Commission spokesman Terry Bote said. The commission doesn’t map or track fiber infrastructure and has no authority to regulate broadband services, he said.
CenturyLink, as a basic emergency services provider, is required to report individual outages when emergency 911 services are down. The commission is working with CenturyLink to identify places where redundancy or diversity is lacking within the company’s emergency 911 network, he added.
Five cuts affect Western Slope serviceMountain Village also experienced several outages in June, according to the town’s IT director, Steven Lehane. A 48-hour outage on June 17-18 was attributed to equipment failures, a line that apparently had been damaged by a bullet on June 10, and by the construction crew’s cut in Cortez, Lehane said.
The outage came during the lucrative Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and some shops couldn’t run credit cards. The town gave local internet customers a 20 percent cable credit, costing about $20,000, he said.
“It was a really bad weekend for that to happen,” Lehane said.
Mountain View also had a 12-hour outage on June 24 that was attributed to a fiber-line cut near Delta, Lehane said, and another 12-hour outage on July 1-2, when 88 10-gigabyte circuits on the Western Slope went down.
Mountain Village has asked CenturyLink representatives to address the outages at the town council’s meeting on Aug. 18.
911 dispatch centers impactedFiber cuts in June strained 911 dispatches on the Western Slope, said WestCO Dispatch in Montrose, a company that provides 911 service for police, fire and emergency medical centers in western Colorado.
One cut took place between Grand Junction and Delta on June 10, said Mandy Stollsteimer, executive director of WestCO. Another took place between Montrose and Gunnison on June 24, followed by a cut just south of Delta on June 27, she said.
Montrose Information Services Director Jeff Scheetz said the cut on June 10 affected most customers in the city, including CenturyLink and Charter Communication’s internet customers, and Verizon’s phone customers. Government buildings and departments weren’t affected because they don’t use those providers, he said.
Emergency 911 lines went down on June 17 for Montezuma and La Plata counties and Ute Mountain and Southern Utes. The calls were routed to the Montrose Sheriff’s Office and relayed to local departments via radio, said Susan Byrne, director of Montrose dispatch communications.
The Montrose dispatch center processed 52 calls from La Plata and Montezuma counties from 3–10 p.m. on June 17, Byrne said, almost triple its typical workload. Two extra night-shift dispatchers were called in, and a crew of five handled the increased load, she said.
“Everything was very routine and flowed very well,” she said. “It was exciting for the dispatchers. They were enjoying it.”
Rural redundancies can be costlyFiber networks in Southwest Colorado lack redundancies that would have prevented the outages. Molzen said CenturyLink is exploring options to provide redundancies, but that it can be very costly.
“We work to provide redundancy whenever possible,” he said.
Cortez and Montezuma County officials aren’t waiting.
Smith said the city and county will soon launch a private line so that government offices, schools and hospitals won’t be cut off again. It should be in place this month and go live in September, Smith said, and it won’t rely on CenturyLink or Tri-State infrastructure.
Montezuma County also is pursuing a $39 million, county-wide project to bring high-speed internet to every household and business in the county. It would be funded by a 1 percent sales tax that will be on the November ballot.
For CenturyLink, the cost of creating internet redundancies continues to be an obstacle.
Though CenturyLink sometimes receives funding from the Federal Communications Commission to bring redundancies to rural areas, Molzen said, companies usually don’t see a return on their investment.
The cost of laying multiple fiber lines is high, spokesman Chavez said at a Club 20 meeting last week in Cortez. And though fiber line cuts decrease the lifespan of the infrastructure, new networks require sometimes-costly maintenance and upgrades, he said.
“The most difficult piece is creating redundancies,” Chavez said.
CenturyLink is considering placing a new network node in Dolores, which would allow the company to reroute services from Cortez, Molzen said, and is exploring diversified routes between Pagosa Springs and Bayfield toward Farmington and Albuquerque. An upgrade to a 10-gigabyte circuit in Pagosa Springs could be in order, too, he said.
Colorado lacks broadband visionAt the Club 20 session, Chavez noted that the state lacked a vision to bring broadband infrastructure to its residents. Fiona Arnold, director of the state Office of Economic Development, agreed, adding that the governor’s office would dedicate resources to broadband within a few months.
Chavez said the June outages were a learning experience for CenturyLink.
“We had a lot of learning about the impact of the outages,” he said. “We probably can do some things differently.”