Fiber optic network projects expand across Summit County

Crews work to install fiber along Interstate 70 in Silverthorne to connect the town to Project Thor.
Photo from Northwest Colorado Council of Governments

Since Summit County jumped in on Project Thor in January 2020, a regional high-speed broadband network created in collaboration with 11 other entities, internet access has improved throughout the area.

Andy Atencio, Summit County’s information systems director, said the biggest benefit of the project is that it provides “redundant and resilient” internet access. This means that instead of having one single network that can be interrupted during construction or service projects, the Project Thor has created multiple paths through the broadband service hubs, known as Meet Me Centers, in Breckenridge and Frisco.

“That means that if the fiber going north down Highway 9 somehow gets cut or compromised or is broken in some way … there is actually a secondary route that goes up over the pass and down (U.S. Highway) 285 and back down into Denver, so service is not lost,” Atencio said.

Atencio said Project Thor doesn’t directly provide service to residential areas. Rather, it’s a middle mile, or type of infrastructure that connects local networks to other service providers and carriers.

The biggest hurdle for internet service providers hoping to get involved is the costly building networks needed to connect to Project Thor, Atencio said. Since there is not a high population density to serve in rural areas, it is difficult to create a financial model that will pay for these types of projects while remaining affordable.

Atencio said the county has worked to establish partnerships with anchor institutions and municipalities that rely on strong internet connectivity, such as Summit Fire and EMS, the Summit County Housing Authority, the towns of Breckenridge and Silverthorne and the county itself.

“It was one of the more significant moves we made as part of our response to the pandemic — getting the county off of Comcast connections and on Thor connections so we can support all the remote work,” Atencio said.

In 2019, Breckenridge started its own fiber network, Fiber 9600, in partnership with Allo Communications to enhance the town’s high-speed internet services. The project works in collaboration with Project Thor.

Shannon Haynes, Breckenridge’s assistant town manager, said since the project was started in 2019, fiber has been installed throughout a large part of downtown Breckenridge.

“The network as it’s been designed and built was intended to meet the council goals of providing reliable, high-speed service to our residents with good customer service … I think that we have achieved that,” Haynes said. “It’ll be a slow build out to try to get more residents on the network, but ultimately our continued goal is to get as many folks as we can … having the opportunity to join the network.”

The town released an interactive map that shows where existing fiber routes are and where additional routes will be constructed. Haynes said the town received a Department of Labor Affairs grant of $875,000, which will be used to create a middle mile that will extend connections north up Airport Road.

Breckenridge has been able to create its own free Wi-Fi network thanks to the Fiber 9600 project. Haynes said the project provides an opportunity to offer a fiber connection to cellular providers as they consider placement of small cells and 5G network coverage.

Haynes said the town has a “dig once” policy, so as it conducts construction throughout the summer and trenches are dug up, the town will lay conduit, or tubing for fiber, whenever possible.

“There’s a lot of expense in trenching and so we lay the conduit and that gives us an opportunity to defray some of the costs,” Haynes said.

Atencio said going forward, Project Thor will look to expand its partnerships, as the county is already in conversations with entities that rely heavily on broadband connectivity.

“We just continue to work toward utilizing some of those different avenues to improve the services that are provided to various areas of the county that are currently underserved,” Atencio said.

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