Friday, October 11, 2013

Ketchum explores Internet options

City cites challenges in executive summary report

Express Staff Writer

A broadband consulting firm has provided the city of Ketchum with six suggestions to enhance the city’s Internet connection, including the implementation of broadband-friendly public policy and collaborating with other public agencies on technology initiatives.

The city’s broadband strategic planning committee is working to bring faster and more accessible Internet connections to local businesses and individuals. The committee hired Denver-based Magellan Advisors, which provides broadband planning and information technology to the public and private sectors, to write a report on the subject.  The report was released Sept. 12.

Community Library Information Systems Director Aaron Pearson serves on the broadband strategic planning committee, and said it is important for the city’s long-term future to have faster Internet access.

“There isn’t an Internet service here that you can run a business on that is easily accessible and inexpensive,” Pearson said. “That’s why the city is doing what it’s doing. Broadband infrastructure is a great, great driver of economic development.”

Pearson, who is running for Ketchum City Council, said that before he was information systems director at the library in 2010, the facility’s Internet operated at 1.5 megabits per second. Now, it runs at 100 megabits per second.

“There isn’t an Internet service here that
you can run a business on that is
easily accessible and inexpensive.”

Aaron Pearson
Community Library information systems director

The Magellan report stated that the cost to produce fiber-optic Internet service is very high and there is a lack of “last-mile” fiber-optic capacity from the trunk lines to the individual buildings in the downtown. Additional factors that hinder Ketchum’s ability to attain improved Internet access include the short construction season, high cost of construction and remote location.

     Along with the compressed construction season, the report asserts that there is a perception among broadband providers that Ketchum has strict construction policies on utility infrastructure. As a result, this perception drives up construction costs and inhibits general broadband development.

     In spite of the many obstacles that Ketchum faces in building improved Internet infrastructure, Pearson said he is dedicated to bringing higher speed fiber-optic Internet access to the local economy.

     “Making Internet available, making it accessible and making it relatively inexpensive means we’re essentially removing barriers,” he said. “We will have a diversified and completely different economy from the one we currently have. It actually aids the current tourist-driven economy. It allows people to function however they want to function anywhere in this area.”

     Pearson also said that stronger fiber-optic Internet access will enable people to stay in Ketchum for longer periods of time, to work remotely and be more flexible in terms of where they want to be. The committee is currently working on a strategic plan which will include provisions to apply for broadband grants.

     Another long-term issue the report expressed concern over is the fluctuating Internet demand due to seasonal populations.

     “Seasonal residents and visitors will generally not establish full time service with local service providers, as they may only be in Ketchum for several months of the year, and in many cases, will suspend their local service when they leave,” the report stated. “This impacts service revenues received by local service providers and inhibits their abilities to expand investment into their local infrastructure.”

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