Power Notes:
Elevating Western Colorado into the 21st Century

By Karen Prather with Kathryn R. Burke

[January 2020 | San Juan Silver Stage | By Karen Prather with Kathryn R. Burke]

Way back in the “old days,” electricity was relatively unknown in rural Colorado and, in many cases, suspect. Becky Mashburn, Marketing Supervisor with Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), recalls visiting with one woman who remembers when electricity first came to her family farm. It was in the early 1930s. “She got an electric stove and left it sitting out on the porch for months, because she didn’t know what to do with it!”

The woman was not alone in her distrust of the newfangled idea of electricity. In the 1930s, while the trend for household electricity swept the United States, residents of Western Colorado fought to join the modern age. When they did sign up for service, “They thought it wasn’t reliable and wasn’t affordable,” Mashburn said. “Sometimes, they just flat out said ‘No!’ and stuck to their wood-burning stoves and ice-house or ice box cooling.”

Then along came Delta-Montrose Electric Association, a cooperative effort of the citizens of both counties. DMEA created a solution for reliable electricity by sourcing it from within the county instead of outside the state. People soon became accustomed to seeing power poles and power lines and plugged in to the 20th century.

Now power poles are (mostly) relics of the past, replaced by buried power lines and fiber optics. And the 21st century ushered in another plateau of technological advancement: the Internet. This time it wasn’t plugging in so much as tuning in. We live in a world where digital communication is no longer an extravagance; it’s a necessity. Just as with our rapidly developing reliance on electricity in the 1930s, today’s world requires Internet connections We use it in our schools, at home, and at work. We do our banking and shopping online, pay bills, and manage medical care, all on our computers or smart phones.

But “going digital” has also been a difficult transition. Here, as in so many areas around the country, large, national companies controlled Internet service and WiFi. (WiFi is a trademarked term for wireless networking technology.) Until recently, users were stuck with a common (and often unreliable) provider who held the contract for their area, regardless of the cost or quality of service provided. Remember TV antennas on the roof? Dial-up Internet? Impossibly slow downloads? Getting “kicked off” when you wanted to watch a movie or even check out a website? Frustration City! Complaining was useless: There were no competing companies, and attempts to improve service were fruitless. With costs locked in, you had no alternatives.

Like everyone else in her neighborhood, Mashburn also suffered from high costs and poor service. “One of the most eye-opening things for me,” she said, “was recognizing how little I actually knew about my Internet. People don’t accurately know what they’re getting or  paying for.”

But once again, DMEA rode to the rescue, introducing reliable, affordable Internet service to its members. In 2016, the company launched Elevate, high-speed, cost-effective Internet service that has spread to most neighborhoods in its service area. Upload and download speeds are consistent. With a click of your keypad (or touch of your finger), you can book a trip, order merchandise or food for next-day delivery, take a virtual tour of a house in a far-away location, and complete the “paperwork” to close the transaction, without ever leaving your seat!

Wonder what that lady who kept her newfangled stove on the front porch “back then” would say. If she’s still around, she’s probably saying it on her mobile phone that runs on Elevate.