Breckenridge is known for many things: it’s picturesque downtown, its incredible ski slopes and its year-round resorts. However, town officials want to make it known for something else—fiber.
The town of Breckenridge is currently building out its municipal fiber network, hoping to offer residents, businesses and visitors much-needed high-speed internet. Since taking off in 2017, the project has picked up steam at an incredible pace.
“We started moving quickly,” said Shannon Haynes, Breckenridge’s assistant city manager. “It feels like we’re running parallel paths. We’re constructing our 2019 build and at the same time really understanding the vision of what our network is going to be.”
Building a Network
A few years ago, town officials started hearing complaints from residents and visitors. Breckenridge’s internet service left a lot to be desired. Haynes and others inside the town started researching what they could do, and soon were confident a municipal fiber system was the answer. Town revenues were healthy and officials realized internet was just as important as the town’s roads and water.
After completing a feasibility study, town officials committed to spending up to $22 million for the project in late 2018, agreeing to spend $8 million to start. They further agreed to an additional $4 million in May 2019. The first phase was building a backbone framework, which focused on the high-density areas within the town. The backbone forms a ring in the town center, with two central distribution networks coming off of it.
Slated to break ground in May 2019, Haynes said construction was slightly pushed back thanks to spring snowstorms. Another interesting obstacle was the topography of Breckenridge. The plan is to put the fiber lines underground. To do that, crews need to break through the bed of rock that lies below the town.
“Our construction season is already pretty short,” she said. “All things considered, the construction season has gone very well. When we first started, I was worried we weren’t going to be able to accomplish that. But our construction company did an amazing job working with a crazy number of crews and bringing so many bodies into the core of town.”
ALLO Communications—the provider and service operator—began marketing the service and saw more than a 30% take rate. While residential properties have been eager to sign up, Haynes said they’re still trying to tap into businesses.
“Those do tend to take a little time because there are a lot more parts than a residential property—the business owner, the property owner—and it’s a bit more complicated,” she said. “But our goal this year was to get that backbone in and hit that super dense area, which is what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Looking to the Future
Town officials said there’s no slowing down now. After a whirlwind construction period in phase one, Haynes said they plan on going full steam ahead for phase two. In 2020 and 2021, the town will likely issue a bond for further construction. While they still plan on focusing on high-density areas, they are still exploring how to connect northern areas of the town where homes are farther apart. Haynes said they’re also going to focus on multi-unit dwellings.
“We’re going to work to identify neighborhoods that have a high interest, and also balance that high interest with the lowest cost-per-premises we can get,” Haynes said. “We have a lot of viable parts of town—really high density of apartment buildings, townhomes, single family residential—that we think are great candidates for our service.”
Haynes is also hopeful the new service can transform the tourism industry in the area. Because of it’s location in the Rocky Mountains, cellphone service can be spotty. In the next few years, the town plans on offering free public Wi-Fi from its fiber network, freeing up cell service during busy periods.
“We have about 4,800 full-time residents, but at times that population can grow to 40,000,” she said. “Our cell networks struggle during those high times—and even not-so-high times. We want to allow service in our area and find ways to make being here easier—whether you’re a guest or a resident.”
Haynes said she believes the investment into fiber will transform the city for the better, and possibly inspire others in Colorado to take the future into their own hands.
“We have a really forward-thinking council that listened to what people had to say and were willing to take a leap,” she said. “It feels good to do good for both our residents and our guests. We had a sharp curve to get educated on this, and we’re still learning as we go.”
Interested in hearing more about Breckenridge’s new fiber network? Join them at the Fiber Broadband Association’s Regional Conference on Nov. 5 in Fort Collins.