The town of Erie, Colorado, is conducting a residential survey as it considers a community owned network. Erie has about 18,000 residents and straddles Boulder and Weld Counties.
The concerns facing Erie's community leaders were recently summed up in a John Aguilar article in the Boulder Daily Camera. According to the article, four companies were to be screened to complete a $50,000 feasibility study. The community owned broadband approach has both strong supporters and some doubters in town.
From the article:
Trustee Jonathan Hager, who has spent the last dozen years managing fiber-optic networks for a Westminster-based wholesale electric power supplier, championed the idea for Erie from both a local control perspective and an economic development one.
"If I'm a company and I'm going to relocate here with 100 employees and I need 100 megabits per second of speed and the town can provide that, I think that would be something I would look at," Hager said. "If we can make Erie stand out as a good place to live because we offer broadband, that puts us in a good position."
Internet access, he said, has become so ubiquitous and necessary that it could be seen as just another municipally provided utility, like water and electrical service.
"We can provide it ourselves and cut out the middle man," Hager said.
Those who are not sold on the idea of funding a study, express resignation at entering a challenging industry:
"I'm very sensitive to the speed of technology's progression," Mayor Joe Wilson said. "By the time we cut the ribbon on this technology, it's old news."
Wilson also voiced concerns about whether it is government's proper role to be providing broadband Internet service or whether that is better left up to the private sector. He said there hasn't been an outcry from residents to pursue such a service.
The completion of a residential survey can clarify how the community feels about local broadband connectivity and help leaders decide how to move forward. Surveys are a common tool as part of feasibility studies, but in our experience the most important question to answer at this phase is whether the community has a vision and clear sense of what would be gained by investing in their own network.
Apparently, Erie is considering several different models. Also from the article:
Options for Erie included building and controlling the whole network itself or partnering with a private company to build and operate the system. The town is planning to issue a community survey later this year, which will now include a question about what priority the establishment of a municipal broadband system takes.
We will be sure to look in on Erie for future developments.