Appeared in the Estes Park News June 23, 2023
Incredibly, the first four years of Trailblazer Broadband’s fiber buildout are behind us! Following a unanimous vote of the Town Board on March 12, 2019, the Town of Estes Park kicked off its community-owned and operated broadband. This high-speed internet service will ultimately be available to everyone Estes Park Power & Communications serves.
Currently, Trailblazer service is available to approximately 80% of the intended recipients and this year, construction has expanded into the outlying areas of Glen Haven and Allenspark. To date, there are over 3,200 Trailblazer Broadband customers, 250 of which are area businesses.
PROGRESS TO DATE
This new fiber network has been entirely built from scratch since the old cable infrastructure used by other carriers cannot provide the speed and reliability of 100% fiber optic lines. The state-of-the-art fiber infrastructure of Trailblazer Broadband requires an expansive network spread from 4 centralized “huts” to 55 strategically located cabinets and then to thousands of terminals across our valley.
Over 780 miles of fiber optic cable have been run since construction started in Sept 2019. As with electrical lines, main fiber lines may run overhead or be buried underground, depending on the location. When running fiber underground, crews typically follow existing easements which is why we may need to cross asphalt or concrete paved areas; however, we try to minimize cutting through these hard surfaces. “It is always our goal to make any disruption from our construction as minimal and short-term as possible,” comments Joe Lockhart, Estes Park Power & Communications Line Superintendent.
During the past four years, the Trailblazer team has constantly streamlined and adapted the construction plan to reach as many customers as quickly as possible while maintaining the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the project. Linda Swoboda, Estes Park Utilities Business Manager explains, “Agility is essential to any large-scale project, and this one is no exception. During the buildout process, we encountered challenges from our surroundings including wildfire, record snowfall and freezing temperatures, fiber damage from wildlife and most recently, a lot of rain. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down our operations less than a year after we started building the network. We weathered that well, but the resulting supply chain issues and rising cost of materials continue to impact us today. Although other front-range communities – Longmont, Ft. Collins, and Loveland – have built similar fiber networks, none of them have faced the same terrain challenges that exist in the Estes Valley. Even considering those challenges, we have been ahead of our original schedule for a good portion of the buildout which leaves us well-positioned to complete construction by the original timeframe by the end of 2024.”
When we change our schedule, the timeline for some areas improves which pleases those folks, while other areas are pushed back on the schedule. We realize that delays can disappoint those eagerly awaiting service, and we are committed to getting everyone connected as quickly as possible. All community members are encouraged to register at www.TrailblazerBroadband.com to receive the latest news and updates with no obligation.
2023 KEY MILESTONES
As the project nears completion, two key milestones are taking place in 2023. The first milestone is making payments on the bond issued to fund the broadband buildout. This bond, procured grants, and Trailblazer client revenue have funded 100% of the project without using any tax dollars. “Obviously, bond payments are a priority for the project’s sustainability, and we are well-positioned to make those payments,” says Swoboda. “We also have to make sure that we pace ourselves efficiently to the finish line for the remainder of the project.”
To that end, the second milestone is to have the Estes Park Power & Communications fiber team do all future construction and installation work in-house. Trailblazer has relied on excellent contractors to help with the buildout, which would not have been completed as quickly or efficiently without them.
“This transition to the in-house team has been planned since the beginning, and now is the time,” states Skye Stiner, Trailblazer’s Lead Fiber Technician. “We are optimizing our resource management to complete as many Trailblazer installations as possible each week while continuing the overall network construction. Summer is always the busy season, and combined with longer run times to Glen Haven and Allenspark, we know the schedule will be tight until the end of the project. This may mean a little longer wait times for our customers from sign up to installation, so we encourage anyone interested in service to sign up as soon as service is available in their area and get on the schedule.”
In addition to faster, more reliable internet, Trailblazer Broadband service is an investment in the community. Investing in its broadband service, the Town of Estes Park keeps dollars in the community while creating jobs and ensuring high-quality local support through Estes Park Power & Communications.
The fiber optic lines that provide state-of-the-art broadband service also serve as the foundational backbone of Estes Park Power & Communications’ Advance Metering Infrastructure (AMI). The AMI is comprised of smart meters and infrastructure devices to transmit the meter reading data. According to Reuben Bergsten, Utilities Director, “Our AMI data is analyzed to reveal potential problems, and we use that information to initiate preventative maintenance that reduces the risk of wildfire from our electric infrastructure.” This technology is essential to a well-maintained working system and will help the community reach its renewable energy goals.
From the outset, the broadband program has achieved success because of the community’s desire for high-speed internet and the support of businesses and residents alike for Trailblazer Broadband. In the words of one new customer, “This is exactly why we switched over to Trailblazer Broadband!! A local company and representative, watching out for us, personally answering the phone when I call, taking care of us.”
Reliable, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury. Ultimately, this is a public utility and a local asset that will provide additional value, opportunities, and sustainability to Estes Valley residents and businesses for years to come.
THANKS TO OUR PARTNERS
Trailblazer Broadband became a reality only through the efforts of a dedicated team. In addition to the Estes Park Utilities Team and Fiber Specialists, Trailblazer’s sales and support team includes Customer Experience Manager Kim Smith and Customer Support Representatives Teresa Jones and Angelo Raso, all of whom have been on board since the project began nearly four years ago. Trailblazer also thanks its valued partners Backbone Fiber Systems, GE Construction, Splash Fiber, OTM, eStrategy3, and FullStack for their various contributions and expertise essential to the buildout effort.
The Trailblazer team looks forward to completing the project in 2024 as originally planned and appreciates the flexibility and understanding of the community as we bring the broadband network buildout to a successful conclusion.
Trailblazer Broadband is municipally owned and is Estes Park’s only locally supported high-speed broadband service providing fiber directly to homes and businesses. The Town of Estes Park provides information only and does not endorse any listed companies, the views they express, or the products/services they offer. For more information about internet service, contact Trailblazer Broadband at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970)577-3770. More Trailblazer news is available at www.trailblazerbroadband.com and https://www.facebook.com/TrailblazerBroadband/.