Breckenridge OKs $8 million to build town-owned fiber optic network

Breckenridge Town Council has approved $8 million for the design and construction of a high-speed fiber optic network.
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Breckenridge Town Council has approved spending $8 million on a town-owned fiber optic network, making the town one of the first mountain resort communities to pursue such a project.

Local officials say the $8 million investment will help cover design and construction costs for a high-speed fiber optic network designed to meet the internet and connectivity needs of Breckenridge’s homes and businesses well into the foreseeable future.

Whether it’s sending audio, video or other data, fiber optic cables operate on light signals rather than the electronic impulses carried by traditional wire-based communications, allowing fiber optics to produce much higher transmission speeds and bandwidths than their copper-wire counterparts.

Town officials say the network will provide new opportunities, not just for high-speed internet service, but a host of other applications, as well. This could mean better cellular service and coverage, public Wi-Fi assets, real-time water metering and other “smart city” solutions to address common problems, like parking and transportation.

“We see this as a cornerstone investment for the town for the next 50 years and beyond,” Breckenridge Councilman Gary Gallagher said. “Much like previous councils had the foresight to secure water rights and land bank for the future, this fiber backbone enables the town to be proactive towards future developments and ensure that we’re in charge of our technological destiny.”

Breckenridge aims to break ground in May and the first phase will include 17 miles of underground infrastructure. Basically, the town will start by creating a “backbone” for the fiber optic network with subsequent “spurs” reaching out to individual neighborhoods. Each new spur would bring more homes and businesses online as the town grows out the new network.

Construction of the first phase should be complete within two years, and the first provisional services are expected to come online for some customers in the third quarter of 2019, according to the town.

Which neighborhood will get plugged in first has not yet been decided, said assistant town manager Shannon Haynes, who expects it will be a “high-density” area like the Wellington neighborhood.

The first service provider or providers will be selected later this year or in early 2019, with residential and business sign-ups slated to begin once the provider or providers are in place.

The idea is to allow all different kinds of service providers to compete using the town’s network, but getting to that point might take some time.

“The intent is to allow competition on the network, but we know the first person in the door will help us work out any bugs in the system, and we don’t know how many folks we’ll have interested right off the bat,” Haynes said, adding that town staff hope to find three to four in the early stages.

Also, the fiber optic cables will have to run into each customer’s home or business. For a connection to be run from the network’s backbone to a home or business, the homeowner or business owner would need to sign up for the fiber optic service before they were wired in.

Oftentimes, these connections, called “drops,” can cost consumers hundreds of dollars when done by private service providers, but the town is committed to shouldering that cost with its fiber optic network, Haynes said.

According to town staff, Breckenridge is one of the first resort communities in the mountains to pursue a project like this and joins other Colorado communities like Centennial, Longmont and Montrose in developing its own municipal-owned network.

Town staff put out a request for proposals regarding the town’s efforts to build a fiber optic network in July 2017 and selected Foresite Group, a Georgia-based company, to complete an assessment and create a business plan to design and build the network.

During town council’s Oct. 9 budget retreat, representatives of the Foresite Group presented their plan, and council approved $8 million for the design and construction of the network.

Additionally, Breckenridge hired consultant Tim Scott of Peak View Enterprises, who has worked with fiber infrastructure projects both in the U.S. and internationally, to provide guidance on the project.

Meanwhile, the town is moving forward on a couple different pieces at the same time, Haynes explained.

While Foresite Group is working on detailed network designs and engineering, town staff are putting together another request for proposals for construction contractors and a request for inquiries in search of service providers who might be interested in coming to Breckenridge.

Both of those should go out soon. The town is also working with a marketing group to help brand the new network, which will tie into fiber optic cables already running up Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge and down Interstate 70 to Denver.

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