Red Cliff takes step toward Internet | VailDaily.com

Red Cliff takes step toward Internet

An 80-foot communications tower was put up Wednesday above Red Cliff. Once internet starts flowing to it from Ski Cooper next summer, the town hopes a cell service provider will be willing to attach to the tower.

RED CLIFF — Freshmen in high school right now, 14- to 15-year-olds, don't know a world without internet, having grown up with email, Facebook, Google Maps and other forms of electronic communication as the norm.

In the small town of Red Cliff, residents don't have internet access — outside of a few restaurants and businesses that are using the only available line from Century Link and locals who want to pay $120 a month for unreliable and slow satellite service.

The town is now taking the first steps to join the rest of the world by constructing a communications tower near town that will eventually receive a signal from a tower at Ski Cooper.

The tower is up in Red Cliff, but internet, and possibly cell service, will have to wait until next summer, said Mayor Anuschka Bales.

"It's huge. It's essentially a game-changer for us," Bales said.

LIVING WITHOUT Internet IN 2016

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While many people take for granted the ease in life the internet provides, the town of Red Cliff is explaining to the U.S. Forest Service that quality internet service is more than just a luxury.

Last year, a telephone line was accidentally cut in Minturn during maintenance by the Forest Service, and the same day a Red Cliff resident plowing snow off his driveway hit a gas line.

"Somebody had to grab a cell phone, get in a car, drive out of town, drive up to Battle Mountain in order to call the fire department," Bales said, assuring that the means of communication the internet would provide to the town is a public safety issue.

She also said that when emergency responders come to town, they are unable to radio for backup nor communicate with each other when in Red Cliff.

Besides providing better public safety, internet would also help businesses in town.

Bales runs a business out of Red Cliff and pays $120 per month for satellite internet, which is very weather dependent, and she said it's "very difficult."

With an allotted amount of data, she has to be careful about the size of things she downloads and she uses Facebook Messenger as a common form of communication with clients.

"Basically what you get is an allotment of data that you can download in a month," Bales said, "and once you hit that allotment, then your speed drops to slower than dial up. At that point, I wouldn't even be able to open an email."

She also has a policy at her home when friends visit, where she confiscates their devices and disables certain apps that drain data.

"It's definitely a little interesting," she said.

And for residents, Internet would mean they could watch more than two or three episodes of a show on Netflix per month without draining their data before the end of the month.

"I think my property values are going up," said resident Jake Spears.

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?

With the tower powered at Red Cliff, the town must finish negotiations, grants and applications before internet service comes to the tower and the town. The project includes working with the Forest Service, since the tower at Ski Cooper is on Forest Service land.

Once the infrastructure is in place, then the town will have a better case for cell phone providers to put their equipment on the existing towers to bring cell service to the town, as well.

The cell service deal is separate from the internet project, but Bales said it's one of those "if you build it, they will come" kind of situations.

The internet project is receiving multiple fundings, including grants from Eagle County and the state's Department of Local Affairs as well as help from the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. Excel Energy is providing the power to the tower.

"It will be better and more reliable internet than the satellite, and it will cost less," Bales said.

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.