Canterbury Estates isn't particularly remote or poor.
In fact, some of the 134 properties in this equestrian neighborhood near Monument probably cost around a million dollars. But Canterbury does share a challenge typical of rural and underserved areas — abysmally slow Internet.
How slow? In January, the Federal Communications Commission reset the broadband speed benchmark to 25 megabits per second download speed, and 3 Mbps upload speed. CenturyLink, the area's main carrier, only offers Chris Davis, the president of Canterbury's homeowners association, a download speed topping out at 1.5 Mbps.
That's not unusual for the neighborhood (though Monument's speeds are generally fine). And, like many others in Canterbury, Davis doesn't have other options for non-satellite broadband. So the engineer goes to a coffee shop or the library if he wants to get any work done on his computer. His wife also struggles, because his two kids are expected to do their homework online and the connection doesn't keep up.
Meanwhile, longtime resident Stan Rader says he has trouble Facetime-ing with his only grandchild. And others complain that the connection hurts their home-based businesses.
In today's world, Davis says, Internet access is a necessity that should be available to everyone. He's taken that case to state legislators, Internet service providers and state agencies. But so far, no one has been able to help. For starters, the state doesn't regulate broadband service, and the Federal Communications Commission has mostly stayed out of the business until recently.
"We're really in a tight spot, because there's nothing that we can do," Davis says. "All we can do is agitate."
CenturyLink representatives say they've already offered Canterbury a workable solution. They even showed up at the last HOA meeting — in a blizzard — to explain it.
"I think we're having a lot of progress; we're going to be able to get them, like, really fast speeds," Jim Campbell, CenturyLink's vice president of government and regulatory affairs, told the Independent recently.
Campbell says some homes in Canterbury already have 12 Mbps download speeds available — if they're willing to pay more for it — and he thinks the whole neighborhood could get 100 Mbps download speeds if they're willing to strike a deal. What CenturyLink is offering is called a bulk agreement, and Campbell says that there are thousands of them in place across the state for Internet and cable services.
Basically, an HOA or other entity representing a large number of users, agrees to pay a service provider like CenturyLink a set amount per home per month for a set amount of years. In exchange, the service provider agrees to install expensive infrastructure that will allow for a good connection.
Campbell says that the payments — for Canterbury, they'd be around $100 per month per house (including phone and Internet service) for 10 years — are meant to cover the costs of infrastructure. In a dense area like Denver, he explains, no one has to pay for infrastructure because there are enough people to ensure a good investment. Places like Canterbury lack that scale, so the company needs to know it will make its money back before it invests.
"All providers do it," Campbell says of the agreements.
But Davis says that deal won't work in Canterbury because the neighborhood covenants and the HOA's bylaws don't allow him to assess such a fee. (It's not yet clear if they can be changed.) Besides, to him, CenturyLink's offer sounds a lot like legalized extortion.
CenturyLink and other Internet providers, he notes, have access to federal and state funds to subsidize the costs of bringing broadband to rural and underserved areas. Asked about the funds, Campbell says he's unsure if they'd be available to Canterbury, since the area gets service.
Meanwhile, Davis says Comcast, which offers little service in the area, has previously told neighbors they'd have to "contribute" thousands to get service to the neighborhood.
In addition to a lack of regulation that might force better technology into areas like Canterbury, there also seems to be a lack of competition between service providers. An article last year in The New York Times noted, "The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry."
Few areas, the article noted, have more than a couple competitors, and instead of battling each other for market share by offering better infrastructure with higher speeds, they seem to simply respect each other's territory. That's especially true in rural areas.
And that's bad news for places like Canterbury.