Breckenridge wants to know: Would you sign up for ‘screaming-fast’ internet for $99 a month?
Breckenridge’s newest survey is relatively quick and an easy one to take, but the underlying question — what’s the best way to deliver blazing-fast internet in town? — isn’t so straightforward.
The survey asks respondents first for an address so the town can identify which neighborhood they live in, such as Wellington East, Wellington West, French Gulch and so on. Soon after, the survey seeks to gauge how likely someone would be to sign up for a fiber optic internet connection with speeds up to 1 gigabyte per second for $99.95 a month.
“With iFIBER Internet you will be on the fastest internet in Colorado,” reads a brief description of the hypothetical package. “Shop, surf and stream like never before. Save time and money with our Gig (1,000 Mbps) connection. No datacaps or overage charges. Pure high-speed fiber.”
That price is obviously preliminary, said Brian Waldes, the town’s director of finance, as the question is really meant to gather information and give people a general idea of what “screaming-fast” fiber packages could look like.
Other survey questions ask residents to describe their internet needs, what the town could do to encourage participation in fiber optic broadband and what residents think are the most important aspects of internet access, suggesting cost, reliability, speed, customer service and no long-term contracts as a few possible answers.
The town has been pursuing a feasibility study regarding running fiber optic cable to every business and home in Breckenridge and entered into an agreement worth $129,000 with Foresite Group to complete this study. That money covers the survey, town mapping, designing a network, building a business model and bringing in other partners like iFIBER, Waldes said.
In March, the mapping of Breckenridge’s neighborhoods — called “Fiberhoods” — was completed, and about a month later town staff unveiled the project’s communications and marketing plan.
The plan came with a timeline for various communication efforts, as well as the informational webpages. The community survey is part of the webpage rollout. At the same time, Foresite Group has reportedly been making progress on network designs and potential business models.
But not everyone is keen on the idea, and Todd Ruelle, a part-time resident since 1978, is critical of the town for what he describes as “moving beyond its core competency.”
After working as the marketing director at Beaver Run Resort, Ruelle went on to become a founding member of MCI Communications, which played a key role in the breakup of AT&T before MCI Communications was bought by Verizon in 2006. Since then, Ruelle has worked for a number of tech-based companies, and he lobbied in support of a different broadband proposal after the town put out a request last summer.
Explaining his problems with fiber in Breckenridge, Ruelle said he sees a trend in the telecommunications industry where major companies like Verizon and Google have largely abandoned efforts to advance fiber optic cables in favor of wireless technologies.
“If this made sense (for Breckenridge),” he continued, “Verizon would be doing it; Century Link would be doing it, but they aren’t … For the town to think they can do this when the people in the business aren’t, that should tell you something.”
Additionally, Ruelle has some questions of his own about the potential cost, wire line connectivity and why Breckenridge isn’t looking into wireless solutions such as 5G technology, which produces “fiber-like speeds” and is being tested now.
With roughly 5,000 residents, he contends that people who don’t own property, part-time residents or anyone making lower-tier wages would be a hard sell for fiber and “the numbers aren’t there.” Most basically, Ruelle thinks a project like this would need a population of at least 25,000 to pay for itself.
“That’s the issue,” Ruelle said. “It’s the RPU — that means revenue per user — and there’s just not enough RPU.”
Responding to some of Ruelle’s concerns, Waldes noted that Breckenridge, with its heavy influx of tourists, is not the average town of 5,000. Furthermore, Waldes said the community desperately needs “high-speed broadband, regardless of who owns the infrastructure.”
“We’re also aware of the population,” he added. “That’s a challenge, but we’re taking a serious look at it, and we believe we can do it. That’s why we’re going down this road.”
Waldes can see numerous applications for fiber far beyond the initial connections, and he readily admitted the town doesn’t have all the answers right now. He also said he too is concerned about some of the same questions posed by Ruelle, but the potential for fiber optic broadband internet service exists here and it’s worth studying.
One sign suggesting fiber could work here, according to Brian Snider, who leads Foresite Group’s network design services nationwide, is the RPU is typically high for single carriers. “If the network truly is open, you can almost think of every serviceable application as potential revenue on the network,” he explained.
Snider contends that simply thinking of the internet in terms of service providers is a broken mindset. Instead, he sees applications in all kinds of fields, like telehealth, security, transportation and education, which he says requires connection speeds only fiber can provide.
In the context of infrastructure, “open-access” means making a network available to other clients and charging a fee. Snider contends that Breckenridge should think of every “serviceable application” on a town-owned open-access network as potential revenue.
“For example, if a home wants a security system and smart air conditioning, then that is more services the network can provide,” he wrote. If managed properly, Breckenridge could cover it costs while “changing the economy for the entire town,” he added.
Snider points to Lampasas, Texas, as a town similar to Breckenridge in size and rural geography that is looking to deliver an open-access fiber network connecting city facilities and anchor institutions, in addition to all homes and businesses in the county.
Take Breckenridge’s survey at TownOfBreckenridge.ServiceZones.net/.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from Brian Snider of Foresite Group.
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