Glenwood Springs Continues Its Tradition of Looking Ahead With Fiber Network Expansion

Lighting up the first phase of middle-mile network Project THOR isn’t the only good news coming out of northwest Colorado recently. Glenwood Springs, a city of 10,000 forty-five minutes north of Aspen, is once again looking to secure the future of its information infrastructure.

In a recent 6-1 decision, the city council voted to replace and expand the reach of its existing fiber system, which currently serves businesses and a select number of residents. The resulting network of 150 miles is projected to cost around $9 million and take two years to complete. Once done, current users will be switched over with no disruption. The new network will be citywide and have the capacity to handle Glenwood Springs’ 4,800 residences and commercial premises. Hopes are, many will sign up.

Building up a Fiber Legacy

This isn’t the first time Glenwood Springs has taken such initiative. Almost twenty years ago the city had access to speeds below one megabit per second (Mbps) and — after being told by Qwest (now CenturyLink) there were no plans for investment or upgrades — it built its own fiber backbone to community anchor institutions with a wireless overlay to provide service to residential customers. The city later expanded the fiber network to connect businesses and some households and opened up the network for participation by private Internet service providers (ISPs).

In defiance of a 2005 state law intended to prevent municipalities from building and operating their own networks, Glenwood Springs was also the first community to opt out of Senate Bill 152. That was 2008. Since then more than 100 communities have followed suit. Longmont, a city of 90,000 five miles north of Boulder, finished its Fiber-to-the-Home network in 2017 and was subsequently named Community Broadband Project of the Year by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors. Project THOR, which Glenwood Springs participated in, is another connectivity project led by local governments. The results have been dramatic. Those connected to Glenwood Springs’ new fiber network will enjoy gigabit speeds, and everyone — from the local school district to hospitals and clinics — is happy to have it.

“Broadband is going to be a utility that stands on its own just like water, wastewater, and our electric fund.” -Steve Boyd, Glenwood Springs Chief Operating Officer

Looking to the Future

These efforts have made a difference, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to improve. In July 2019, the Colorado Sun reported that 85,000 rural households, or 14 percent of the state, had access to no or slow broadband. Even with the help of federal funds, private ISPs have failed to connect rural Coloradoans. Mark Soltes, CenturyLink’s Director of Public Affairs, has admitted that even with federal funds — the company accepted nearly $160 million from the federal Connect America Fund in Colorado alone — CenturyLink will not be able to connect every user in the state.

“I 100 percent believe that having access to broadband service can be an economic catalyst for these communities. It’s the 21st-century version of providing everyone with electricity or phone service.” -Tony Neal-Graves, executive director of the Colorado broadband office

Denver-based Alpine Bank will finance the project, with the city paying $202,500 for the first three years and $640,000 for the remainder of the 20-year loan. The upgrade and expansion is expected to begin this summer.

MuniNetworks has covered Glenwood Springs in depth. View past articles and listen to Episode 206 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for more.