Breckenridge in early phases of weighing town-owned high-speed internet network

The RIverwalk Center and the town of Breckenridge seen on Jan. 25. Breckenridge is looking into possibilities of outfitting the town with fiberoptic broadband services.
Hugh Carey / |

Breckenridge is looking into a town-owned, high-speed broadband network that could help make the community “a smart city” as technology advances, while holding down the price of internet service.

“We like to consider ourselves holding an umbrella for guiding a town from cradle to grave on how to build out a network and evaluating it from a market assessment, which we’re starting to do for the town now,” said Brian Snider, a representative of the Foresite Group.

Breckenridge officials are working with the multidisciplinary design, planning and engineering firm based in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, to determine if a fiber optic network could work here.

Foresite responded to a request for proposals put out by the town last summer, and on Tuesday town staff and representatives from the company briefed Breckenridge’s elected officials on their plans going forward.

“We’re big proponents of open-access networks.”Brian SniderForesite Group representative

Foresite has offices primarily in the Southeastern U.S. and is currently working on other broadband assessments in Lampasas, Texas, and New Orleans.

A fiber network is similar to existing utilities, like power, water or telephone, in that it generally travels along a right of way directly to a specific location, be it a house, business or some other entity.

During Tuesday’s presentation before Breckenridge Town Council, Snider emphasized the network would remain separate from the internet-service providers but be available for them to use.

“We’re big proponents of open-access networks,” he said, explaining that in an open-access model, the town owns the network while ISPs simply provide service to their customers over that network.

This welcomes competition by allowing any internet provider to offer service over the same high-speed network without having to build its own, he said.

“Being a ‘smart city’ is all the talk right now, right?” Snider asked rhetorically before explaining there are some things, like “smart trashcans,” that towns can do right now with a cellular network.

In fact, Breckenridge already has some of those smart trashcans, which let workers know when they need emptied, said town manager Rick Holman.

However, there are other things Breckenridge just can’t do without fiber connectivity to make them work properly, Snider said.

It’s premature at this point, he admitted, but no town will ever have fully autonomous cars that drive themselves without the kind of high-speed connectivity afforded by fiber.

“We’re really trying to look to the future and be progressive in how we handle all of the issues (facing Breckenridge), like congestion, parking and housing,” said Haley Littleton, a spokeswoman for the town, before noting that high-speed internet is a necessity for many local businesses and residents.

“Really, I think building this network and this system as a town-owned system gives us the chance to own our future in a mountain community,” she said.

How could such a network be set up in Breckenridge? What’s going to be the ultimate cost of building it, and how much can the town expect to make back in revenue once it’s up and running?

These are the questions Foresite is trying to answer for Breckenridge to get town officials to the point they can make a “go or no-go” decision on a town-owned broadband network.

The potential cost and estimated revenue from the network are key to the decision-making process, Snider said, and they’re aiming to have those answers by the end of the summer.

If Breckenridge gets to the point they can green light the project, the fiber would likely be deployed over a period of time in an “optimal order,” meaning that some neighborhoods — which Foresite has coined “Fiberhoods” — would get connected before others.

Generally speaking, the idea is to focus on the areas with the most possible customers first and use that revenue to build out the network to other areas.

But every location is different, Snider said, and right now, they’re feeling out what kind of scenario might work best in Breckenridge.

In many cases, the fiber cable could be laid under the roads, and that’s likely one way the town could save some money in the installation.

Getting to the point the town could make a decision will take a few additional steps, and the next is to map out Breckenridge geographically with a LIDAR device, which works much like the technology that produces Google Maps by pinpointing the exact location of everything from telephone poles to trees and buildings.

Construction in a mountain town could present some problems, Foresite representatives warned, but that’s where all the LIDAR data really comes into play.

They’ll be able to do more as the snow melts and ice thaws, according to town staff.

On Tuesday, Breckenridge director of finance Brian Waldes told members of town council to ask questions, familiarize themselves with the terms and be ready to field inquiries from the general public because the town expects to roll out more information about the possibility of a town-owned broadband network soon.

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