Colorado Communities Moving Forward on Munis, Local Authority

Breckenridge was among the list of Colorado communities that voted to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152 back in 2016. Now, they’re ready to move forward with design and construction of an open access network. As the resort town prepares to begin work on their fiber infrastructure, several other communities will ask voters to opt out of SB 152 on November 6th.

To the Voters

As we reported in August, Aurora, Cañon City, the town of Florence, and Fremont County had already made plans to put the opt out question on their local ballots. Since then, we’ve discovered that that at least six other local governments want voters to address SB 152.

In Salida, where the town needed to fill a vacated office without delay, community leaders chose to hold their election in September and put the issue on the ballot. The measure to opt out passed with 85 percent of the vote.

Voters will also decide of their towns or counties should reclaim local telecommunications authority in the towns of Fountain and Erie along with Chaffee County and Kiowa County. Over the past several years, more than 120 local communities have asked voters to opt out of SB 152 and local referendums overwhelmingly passed. Many local communities have presented the issue to voters with no specific plans in mind, but do so in order to keep their options open and because they feel that Denver is less qualified than they are in making decisions related to local connectivity.

The Fremont Economic Development Corporation (FEDC) has reached out to voters, urging them to approve the measure with a "yes" vote. The fact that SB 152 still hangs like cloud over the region prevents them from obtaining grant funding to boost economic development.

"We would like to vote to authorize our municipalities to be able to become involved because there is a lot of money out there that is available for the purpose of building infrastructure, but it has to be done through the governmental agency," [Executive Director of the FEDC] said. "We put our shoulder to the wheel on this because we see broadband as a critical element of economic development, as critical in many cases as the utilities like gas, lights, water and sewer."

Broadband for Breck

logo-breckenridge-co.png Back in 2016 after Breckenridge voted to opt out, we spoke with Brian Waldes, Director of Finance and Information Technology from the resort town where high numbers of seasonal visitors impact connectivity. Year-round residents number around 5,000 but tourists increase the population to as many as 36,000 people. At the time we spoke with Waldes, elected officials wanted the freedom to explore possibilities, but needed to take the first step and reclaim SB 152. Since then, they’ve surveyed the community as part of a feasibility study and have decided to invest in open access infrastructure. 

The Town Council recently approved $8 million from their capital improvement project fund for design and construction of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. They intend to begin deployment in May 2019 and, while the first phase of the network won’t be completed for two years, they plan to begin connecting subscribers in higher density areas as early as late 2019.

In addition to increasing competition to create more choices for residents and businesses, city leaders hope to expand the use of the infrastructure for smart city applications and other uses. Breckenridge is working with Foresite Group to design the network and Brian Snider from the company spoke with the Summit Daily about advanced applications that go beyond Internet access for homes and businesses.

"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.

”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 its costs while "changing the economy for the entire town," he added.

Photo credit DReifGalaxyM31 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.