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January 4, 2016   |   Silverton Standard - Mark Esper

Silverton School at last gets fiber-optic link

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Kim White’s job as Silverton School Superintendent requires her to exercise a lot of patience. And she’s good at that.

But the years of delay in getting a high-speed fiber-optic line to Silverton to provide adequate bandwidth for her teachers and students stretched her to the breaking point.

On Thursday, Dec. 17, White was still waiting, and reported that an Internet speed test at the school showed a download speed of just 2.6 megabits per second.

But on Friday, after the fiber-optic line was finally “lit up,” computers in the school were rocketing along at 96 megabyte-per-second Internet speeds.

“I’ve been smiling all day,” she said.

White credited Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and his staff for pushing the project through, despite numerous hurdles over the years.

And on Monday, Dec. 21, Bennet dropped by to meet with students and teachers.

“I just wanted to come by and see it with my own eyes,” Bennet said. “The minute I heard it was lit I wanted to come.”

Bennet said he’s been working to get the fiber-optic link to Silverton for seven years.

“It’s taken longer than it should have,” he said.

The project to connect Silverton to Durango via a fiber-optic link was made possible by the $100-million EAGLE-Net Alliance project to bring open-access fiber-optics networks to school districts throughout the state. It was funded by the Obama administration’s broadband stimulus program in 2010.

Bennet, former state superintendent of schools, said rural broadband access has long been a major priority for him.

“The reason it’s so important to me, is that if you live in a town in Colorado and don’t have high-speed Internet access and other people do, it’s really no different from saying that some kids will have textbooks and others kids won’t. And that’s just not right in the 21st century.”

He recounted a previous visit to Silverton when a businessman demonstrated how slow telecom speeds hamper credit card transactions at peak times.

Teacher Elizabeth Barszcz told Bennet the lack of bandwidth had been a disability for the school.

“When we design lessons, we kind of moved back from using anything web-based because it was not going to work,” she said.

“It’s been really frustrating,” added teacher Paul Joyce. “We’ve kind of hobbled along, but it’s been really, really challenging just to do anything, like show a Youtube video or download a program — things other kids take for granted.”

High school junior Derrick Zanoni told Sen. Bennet that he organized an Internet speed test with as many computers online as possible.

“I got 62 megabits (per second) with the entire school using as much bandwidth as we could,” he said.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Anthony Edwards, former county economic development director, who has been working for years to get the fiber-optic link to Silverton. “Some have been working on this for two decades now. This really opens up a whole new world. The students will now be able to be part of a lot of things online, just like everyone else.”

Meanwhile, FORETHOUGHT.net, a company that acquired the Durango-based Internet service provider Brainstorm two years ago, has acquired the old Silverton cable TV network and is planning to offer high-speed broadband services early next year to homes and businesses.

Deanna Gallegos, executive director of the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the telecom upgrade will be a huge benefit to economic development efforts here.

“The Chamber receives the relocation requests from families and businesses who want to move and or open a business in Silverton,” Gallegos said. “The number one question usually is about our Internet services, so finally now we will have good news for telecommuters and new businesses.”

And County Commissioner Pete McKay thanked Sen. Bennet and all involved in the effort.

“We appreciate the support and hard work from the many, many people and organizations who have stood by us and helped us achieve our long-standing goal of getting a fiber optic connection to our community,” McKay said. “To have our public school connected to high-speed Internet is the best Christmas present our community could ever receive. Connections to our government offices, businesses and residences will follow in 2016.”

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