Estes’ pursuit of broadband supports business, quality of life

Like many native Coloradans, I’ve always had a soft spot for Estes Park. I’ve been blessed to serve as the town administrator in Estes for the last five years, giving me a new perspective on this national gem. Estes has a rich history as a destination community, serving as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and with its quaint, eclectic and somewhat funky downtown, and the vast options for accommodations from camping to luxury rentals. Elk routinely walk through the center of town, sometimes causing “elk jams” on the roads. There is nothing like it anywhere else in Colorado, and that view you are treated to as you crest the hill coming into town on U.S. 36 or U.S. 34 still takes my breath away.

As more people come to the Front Range, and more people rediscover Estes Park, our visitation numbers are booming. In 2015, Rocky Mountain National Park was the third-most visited national park in the nation, with more than 4.1 million visitors, exceeded only by Great Smoky National Park and the Grand Canyon. 2016 is on track to exceed that record. Estes Park is turning 100 next year, and while we celebrate our history, we’re not resting on any laurels. We are moving forward embracing the future while protecting the special character of this mountain village.

One area we are aggressively pursing is high-speed, reliable, affordable and broadband service.

In early 2015, a public vote to opt out of Colorado’s Senate Bill 152 was conducted in the town of Estes Park, and it passed with 92 percent support. This allows the town to reclaim local authority to build telecommunications infrastructure.

The town and the Estes Park Economic Development Corp. jointly applied for, and were awarded, an economic-development planning grant from the Federal Economic Development Administration. One segment of this grant was a broadband assessment. This resulted in the Estes Park Broadband Expansion and Technical Assistance Strategy Report completed in July 2015. The feasibility study showed overwhelming community support for improved broadband services for residents, guest services and businesses.

In the fall of 2015, the Town contracted with Dr. Jill Mosteller of the Colorado State University Department of Marketing to conduct a “Take Rate Study” to determine what the subscription rate and price sensitivity of the community would be for broadband services. This was the revenue side of the equation needed to determine if enhanced broadband in the Estes Valley is financially viable.

In the latest phase of this project, the town, with funding from a state energy impact grant of more than $1 million, has recently contracted for a detailed engineering design of the broadband buildout for the entire Estes Park Light and Power service area (an area encompassing just over 300 square miles.) This study should be completed by next summer.

This is a huge endeavor for a little town, but we are enthusiastically accepting the challenge. The exact model for broadband delivery is still to be determined, but by summer of 2017, the town board will have all the information they need to decide how to move forward.

High-speed broadband is no longer a luxury; it is a basic necessity for economic health. Even in our small mountain village, we need broadband to serve teleworkers who choose to live here for the quality of life, guests who demand high-speed Internet while staying in our lodges and vacation homes, conference and meeting facilities, retail and service businesses and residents. Broadband is necessary to be economically competitive and to support our high quality of life.

While are well on our way to becoming a highly connected community, we are also a place where you can walk out your back door and completely unplug. It’s the best of both worlds.

Frank Lancaster is town administrator for Estes Park. He can be reached at 970-577-3705 or via email at flancaster@estes.org.

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