Breckenridge looks into potential for better broadband infrastructure
Increasing visitor numbers, budding tech businesses and a growing local population are bringing the discussion on broadband to the forefront of Breckenridge. While the town has not recently studied the existing resources compared with the demand, both locals and visitors have shared concerns with dropped calls and slow Internet speeds.
“During peak periods in Breckenridge, we are starting to see issues in accessing the internet,” Elevate CoSpace founder Amy Kemp said. “We’ve just heard anecdotally that’s starting to happen. … As we’re starting to see more remote workers and more location-neutral companies, it’s only going to put more pressure on our local community. If you could work anywhere in the world, why wouldn’t you work here?”
Like Summit County did last fall, the town of Breckenridge is proposing a ballot measure to opt out of Colorado Senate Bill 152, which limits municipalities from entering partnerships to create broadband infrastructure, such as cell towers or cable. Last fall, The Denver Post reported 44 cities and counties voted to opt out of SB152, with Summit County voters passing the measure by a landslide (89 percent).
“People are starting to talk about it as another essential utility in the community,” Breckenridge Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Wolfe said. “We’re all getting to the point where we can’t live without it.”
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Breckenridge Town Council voted to put the measure on this fall’s ballot during their Tuesday, July 12 meeting. And last Tuesday, they also discussed the possibility of commissioning a broadband assessment to explore the town’s options, from working with an existing fiber conduit through the town to developing a town-wide Wi-Fi service.
“We can explore, but we can’t actually do anything until this bill passes, which we plan to put on the ballot in November,” Wolfe added.
While the broadband assessment did not go to vote on Tuesday, councilmembers hammered out the details, including whether a study would be seen as an interference with the election process.
“We have to be careful with how we use the data. But we won’t have any conclusion by (November),” Breckenridge town manager Rick Holman said. “This is not going to happen overnight. It’s a multi-year process. The sooner we get started, the sooner we’re going to move toward improvement.”
In the event that the ballot measure does not pass and the town is not opted out of SB152, Breckenridge Councilwoman Erin Gigliello said an assessment would still be useful in conversations with telecommunications companies.
“I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor for our community to see how much the need is,” she added.
When it comes to the cost, Breckenridge financial services manager Brian Waldes added, “We won’t be signing on the dotted line with anybody,” until the election results are in. Preliminary cost estimates for the study are between $50,000 and $75,000.
“We need to get our act together. This is a big deal and this will be a big deal to the future of our guests coming here,” Wolfe said. “Broadband is vitally important to jobs here and guests in town.”
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In some areas of Summit County, residents living in “dead zones” are not just pushing for better cell coverage, but any coverage at all. In Breckenridge, the conversation is more about preventing wireless networks from becoming overwhelmed at peak periods when visitor numbers continue to swell.
For example, Wolfe said, upload speeds take a toll as visitors upload their vacation photos to social media sites.
“It’s also affected the people who are working from home, the people who come into town and use our coffee shops, our Wi-Fi connections, people who have meetings,” she said. “You have to be able to connect to the Wi-Fi and have adequate download and upload speeds.”
In Breckenridge, commercial fixed wireless speeds range from 25 to 50 megabits per second, significantly slower than Denver’s wireless speeds, according to the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology. This is fast enough to stream HD video and download large files but might not be adequate for some tech-heavy businesses.
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments reported in a 2013 study that some businesses might need speeds of 20-30 Mbps and a few upwards of 100 mbps.
Mobile speeds in the county were reported at about 6 – 25 mbps.
Compared to other counties in Northwest Colorado, Summit is still at the front of the pack. For the 10 counties surveyed, download speeds were divided into three service tiers: fast, medium and slow. Summit County was only surpassed by Carbondale and Pitkin, with about 55 percent of residents reporting “fast” service.
“It’s a huge differentiating factor, if Breckenridge can make it more affordable for businesses to have faster internet,” Kemp said. “I think it’s smart for the town and the community of Breckenridge not just to look at it as a nice-to-have, but a must-have.”
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