River deep mountain high: Bringing broadband to the highest communities in Colorado

Sep 05, 2019 by Kelly Barnett

For a town of less than 6,000 people, tempting a major broadband provider is no easy task. There’s little profit to be made in small town America, let alone one high in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, where getting there is hard enough for people, let alone utilities. But, if you can bring broadband, life gets a whole lot easier for local folks. Research has shown that people with high-speed broadband access have better employment opportunities and are more engaged with their local community. It helps young people do their homework, provides access to online medical services, and enables interaction between citizens and their government. The list of benefits is a very long one.

So, how do you get broadband delivered in a mountain community like Estes Park, Larimer County, Colorado? Well, that’s where it starts to get expensive. Most telecommunications companies are not interested in bringing those services into small, remote communities because of the costs involved. But, if you are the local Power and Communications Division, with poles already delivering services, it becomes a lot more cost effective.

"A cable company will traditionally put up a support wire, then install the fiber optic cables, then return with a machine to connect that to the steel pole. That’s three things you have to do. It’s a cheap product to buy, but the man-hours add up. We are pulling in about 10,000 feet a week. That doesn’t sound like a lot – if you were in Kansas, where it’s flat and straight. We had to cross rivers four or five times and cross highways four or five times."

- Joe Lockhart, line superintendent for Estes Park Power and Communications Division

Life Will Get Easier for Estes Park Residents

By using aerial self-support conduit from Dura-Line, one of Orbia’s community of companies, an in-house, four-person crew could handle the whole job. Lockhart estimates that the project will save $3 to $4 million on man-hours. He understands that, long term, the maintenance – as well as the cost of installation – will result in significant savings for the community.

Living in the Rockies brings unique maintenance issues that need to be taken into account.

“If a tree hits the strand and lash, the lash comes off and unravels. The wind will blow the lashing into a power line and that will cause a power outage. With Dura-Line’s FuturePath system, you only spend time once putting into the air – which involved permits and traffic control. Then you just go to a vault and push the fiber through. There’s no traffic control, we don’t disturb residents' landscaping, and it’s several thousands of dollars cheaper. If we can save money, then that’s what we are trying to do.”

- Joe Lockhart, line superintendent for Estes Park Power and Communications Division

In 2019, Estes Park is bringing broadband to the community. Soon, life will be a lot easier for locals – and for the thousands of visitors who flock to the area each year.