Thanks to Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript for Episode 68 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Vince Jordan and George Oliver on fiber bond in Longmont, Colorado. Listen to this episode here.
George Oliver: Tell everyone you can in Longmont to vote yes for ballot issue 2B.
Lisa Gonzalez: Hi there. This is Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Welcome to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.
This week, Chris talks with Vince Jordan, Broadband Services Manager for Longmont Power & Communications. LPC now offers affordable gigabit service to businesses in the community. The network has also started building out service to residents and intends to expand. Under the current LPC plan, the incremental build-out will take about 40 years to build out the entire Longmont community. Rather than wait four decades, LPC is asking the voters to approve a revenue bond that will allow the project to happen in 3-4 years.
Chris also visits with George Oliver, Longmont citizen and cofounder of Friends of Fiber, a volunteer advocacy group. The organization is a collection of residents that understand the value of expanding the network. This group is spreading the word, to counteract any misinformation that could come from incumbent providers. In 2009 and 2011, citizens faced referendums on similar network questions. In those instances, getting the word out to the public greatly influenced the results.
Let's listen to Chris talk first with Vince about the network and the build-out, and then he moves to a discussion with George about how that group is educating the public about the referendum.
Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Chris Mitchell. And today, I'm back with Vince Jordan, back for his second time on this show. Welcome back.
Vince Jordan: Thank you, Chris. It's really great to be here.
Chris: Yes. And I can actually see you during our video chat recording the audio. Which is nice. We were just together when you got the award from NATOA, down in Orlando. Congratulations for that.
Vince: Yeah. Thank you. That was a big deal for us. I mean, it was a really big deal, as you know. You know, the flood had just happened, and we thought it was important enough to jump on a plane and at least get down there and accept that. So that was a break. We really enjoyed that.
Chris: Excellent. So, you're the Broadband Services Manager for Longmont Power & Communications. And we went over a lot of the background of what Longmont's doing, and a history of the network, in a previous show, that I'll encourage people to listen to. But today, I wanted to talk about what's happening. And so, I want to lead right in with what's happening with the floods. Do you want to briefly tell us the situation, and how things have resulted, now that they're over?
Vince: Yeah. I mean, you know, the biggest impact with the floods was, really, you know, the way of life in Longmont here, especially with our parks, greenways, and things like that, those were really clobbered hard. It's going to be years to recover from that. We've got certain roads and bridges that are still out. But our basic infrastructure -- you know, water, wastewater, electric, and our fiber -- held up really well through the floods. And also, you know, showed the resiliency of, really, the community and the -- you know, the folks operating in the community here. I would say, for the most part, we're back to, you know, life getting kind of normal. But we've got, like I said, years of work to get it back to where it was pre-flood. I mean, a lot of the stuff that we enjoy as a community really got hammered bad in the flood, and it's going to take time to recover it.
Chris: Right. We wish you the best. And we know that a lot of communities in Colorado were hit, and so our heart goes out to all of them.
Vince: Appreciate that.
Chris: When I was out there, back in March, you gave me a tour. And I got to see some of the places where you're already delivering a fiber connection. And so, you've been moving full steam ahead on your network. You're delivering a gig, at 50 bucks a month. Pretty incredible. And you have many satisfied business customers, even before you started doing the gig for that cheap. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what you've been up to over the past year?
Vince: Yeah. Over the last year, you know, as you know, we've put in switch gear and technology to let us bring services to our businesses and residents. We had great response to that. We're up to -- I think we're around, oh, 30-plus businesses now. And that's just from April of this year. All kinds of different sizes and -- I think the biggest on is our local clinic, with 350 users behind the connection. And it's been working fabulously. You know, really. I mean, from the time that we've been delivering services, we're at 100 percent uptime, even with the flood, which is amazing. The only people that lost connectivity were folks who lost power during the flood. And that got restored very quickly. The fiber held up really well.
And then we've got a handful of residents that we've been doing this dig service with. And I can tell you that, you know, it's been a lot of fun working with them. It's very exciting for them. We've got folks who are going out and buying -- you know, upgrading their own personal infrastructure and computing equipment, just to really be able to take advantage of it. It's neat to see it working, to see the reality of it. I've actually been to a couple of our residential customers' homes. And just listened to them talking about how excited they are that everything's just instant. You know, it's -- it becomes less about the speed and more about their experience.
And to listen to them talk about their experiences is a lot of fun. It's just, everything that used to take time now just happens. And so, they're playing with their own technology, and squeezing more and more out of, you know, the connection we're providing them. It's really satisfying to see that working the way it is.
Chris: Boy, I tell you, you've got an incredible countryside out there, it's a beautiful place to live, you have this incredible access to the Internet, an incredibly low price. It's a -- you know, it's a hard life for you, Vince.
Vince: [laughs] Yeah. Well, you know, it's a hard life for me, 'cause, personally, I don't have it yet.
Vince: We still have to get that build-out done. But for the folks that do have it, yeah, this is turning into a real mecca here.
Chris: Right. And that gets us into the question, which is, how soon will you be hooked up -- and everyone else be hooked up? And that's something voters are going to be deciding here in the next three weeks.
Vince: That's correct. Three weeks from now, Longmont voters will be voting on a ballot issue, 2B, which is the ballot issue that we have to fund the entire build-out. And if that passes, then, you know, we'll move ahead and go the next phase of working through the entire build-out for the system.
Chris: So, what is the question that voters will be answering?
Vince: Should the city of Longmont enter into a revenue bond to build out the entire broadband system? It's a $43 million revenue bond. Whether they'll support that or not.
Chris: And, for those who aren't as familiar, the revenue bond is such that the utility basically puts out a document that says that if anyone wants to invest in this, we're going to raise $43 million, and we're going to pay you back according to this schedule over -- I'm going to guess 20 years?
Chris: Right. So there's no taxpayer dollars or anything like that. It's private investors that are putting their money into a long-term investment that's going to finance you being able to build this network much more quickly.
Vince: Yes. If -- you know, as I explain to folks many times when I'm doing presentations about this, if we didn't go for the revenue bond, then at the current rate that we're building out -- which is basically, you know, self-funding, right, almost like the bootstrap business -- it would take 40 years to build out the entire community. With the revenue bond, it's projected to take three or less years to build out the entire community. And you're correct: the way a revenue bond works, it's the revenue from the broadband system that repays the bond issue.
Chris: The reason that you have the -- you have this ability to self-finance -- was because of all the years of having the dark fiber revenues coming in, and that sort of thing. You know, and it's not available to everyone. So you guys have quite the benefit of being able to have started delivering services, and know that you can roll some of them out. So when people vote, they'll already know, to some extent, what they're voting about.
Vince: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, what we've done, to help people understand this even better is, we've created three experience centers here in town. So, one's at a local restaurant, a brewery. One's at a coffee shop. And then, you know, one's at our library. And, you know, when you talk to people, I've found, you know, over the last year, talking to people about a 50-meg connection, or a 100-meg, or a gig connection, I mean, their eyes just glaze over. They don't really -- it's hard to figure out what I'm talking about, 'cause they....
Chris: Those are just numbers, right?
Vince: Yeah. It's just numbers. They -- you know. They can't quantify it, so we've provided them three places in town where they can go and quantify the number standard. And I've had many residents come back to me after going to one of these three places and go, oh, I get it, when do I get to sign up? You know.
Vince: We've seen, across those three venues, in just the last couple of months, literally terabytes of data downloaded and uploaded by our residents taking advantage of it. So it's really neat to see that as well.
Chris: So, how that works is, I'm guessing, you have like a toggle? Or do you have different machines that are set to be throttled at different rates? Is that how it works? Or you just have the super-fast?
Vince: Super-fast -- we -- well, what we did was we went and found -- so. we experimented on ourselves here at LPC, and we went through a bunch of different wireless access points, picked the one that delivered the highest rate possible, of all the different ones that we looked at, and then we went out and put an ONT in these facilities, connected those access points to the fiber network, and basically have it open.
Vince: So it's a the gig connection. So that people can go in there with their tablets or phones or laptops or whatever, and get the best possible connection they can. And so now folks are really getting an idea of what ultra-high-speed broadband is like. At the library, we actually have computers that are hardwired in, but with the Ethernet cards that are in there, they're only capable of doing about 350 meg.
Vince: Only. Yes. It's funny to talk like that.
Chris: I bet the folks in the library must be very excited to have that kind of capacity.
Vince: Oh, they're thrilled. In fact, the library has really turned into an interesting place now. At any given time of the day, there's about 70 folks connected on that network.
Chris: So, Vince, if this thing passes in three weeks, what is the next step for you?
Vince: So, the next step for us is, we're already in the process of developing the RFP for the design and the engineering of the entire system. We want to have that ready to go on November 6th. So, we wake up in the morning of November 6th, and if this thing is passed, we're going to put that RFP out on the street and look for responses to it. We want to hire the design engineering firm as quickly as we can. Hopefully have that contract in place by the end of the year, first part of January. Go through the process of the entire citywide design and engineer. And then right after that, put out the bids for construction. And hopefully, we're turning their, you know -- early summer here, and start this citywide build-out. And, as I've explained many times to our businesses and residents, our goal is not to just build from one area, you know, kind of like move north or move south, but because we'll be using our substations as our primary hubs for this network, build out from the substations -- there's five of them in Longmont -- and probably build out from at least three of those into the city. And, as I've explained to people, since we're already providing service, if I build past you this week, we'll be able to hook you up next week.
Vince: So that's really exciting. We'll be turning people on as we go and, you know, hopefully, we're just bringing on a bunch of customers here by half-way next year.
Chris: Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Vince: Oh, my pleasure, Chris. I really enjoy it.
Chris: I'm going to be George Oliver. George, welcome to the show.
George Oliver: Thank you, Chris. I appreciate it.
Chris: George, you're the cofounder of Friends of Fiber, and a concerned citizen. You've been around a little bit. I know that you were active in 2011 with the previous referendum. Why is this an issue for you? What makes this important?
George: What makes this important is that I really like the city of Longmont, and I think that the benefits of installing and building out their own fiber optic network are many, to this city. I see a lot of upside in doing this.
Chris: Terrific. What are some of those benefits?
George: Well, some of 'em are -- as far as the funding for it, it's going to be a bond fund, but it will represent no new taxes to the citizens of Longmont. The bond will be repaid by revenues generated by users -- those who use the fiber optic network. So those that don't, whether it passes or not, will not be taxed in order to pay for it. So, economically, there's an advantage.
Beyond just repaying the bond, it will be beneficial to the citizens of Longmont in that they'll get faster bandwidth delivered to their door at a much cheaper price than they're able to get it today. In some cases, businesses have requested higher bandwidth from their existing vendor, the incumbents, and have been told that it simply was not going to be available from them. So this will erase that. It will help economically for the city, you know, in a broader sense, that it will make it more business-friendly.
George: It will help to retain and attract business. Much similar to the electrical rates that we have, that are also -- the electricity is provided by the city as well.
Chris: In a Wall Street Journal article, just last week, they said that, you know, faster Internet's nice, but it really doesn't matter that much. Um, I know that you have, in the city of Longmont -- I know that a gigabit is really nice, and that's what the network will be providing. But I'm curious, as you have a fast cable system already, aside from a few businesses that need it, what do you think the benefit is for residents?
George: It will be less expensive than what they're able to get. So, cheaper bandwidth is always good. I have been in data communications for my career, in the Colorado area. And, to me, my analogy is that bandwidth availability is kind of like feeding pigeons. You know, the more pigeon food you throw out there, the more pigeons are going to show up. Well, the more bandwidth that's available for bandwidth-intensive applications, those applications will be written. And also, not just applications but, you know, high-speed file transfers. And also, online streaming of gaming. Faster Internet helps to improve that customer experience in the gaming world as well.
Chris: So, how is the Friends of Fiber getting the word out, educating the public, and generally encouraging people to vote yes on the referendum?
George: Well, some of the work has already been done for us. This -- the backbone of this fiber was laid in 1997. And the vote coming up in November is just to kind of complete the build-out, to make it true fiber-to-the-home. And I said that because we do have the backbone. We do have users on it already. And those users including the city government offices; the local school district -- all of the schools and offices of the local school district; the hospital here in town, Longmont Hospital; our libraries. And then we have approximately 20 commercial businesses that were close enough to the backbone to get hooked up to it. So those users have done a lot already to help kind of sway public opinion about this being a good thing. What we have been doing is, doing a lot of multimedia. We have a website. That website is www.friendsoffiber.com . We also are on Facebook. We're on Twitter. So we're getting out the word through social media and those that do podcasts and blogs like yourself. We're also going out in person. There was a citywide candidates' debate, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, last week. And we were there and putting out the word to people who attended that. Next week, we're also going to be attending a larger group, the Neighborhood Group Leaders Association of Longmont, which is going to be a debate sponsored by the city. And we'll have a spot there on the podium there, to get the word out to the neighborhoods in general. In addition, we've also printed up yard signs, and fliers. And we have those going up around town, and we're handing those out. We also are in the process of putting out fliers taped to business windows, those who will allow us to do it. And thereby get the word out to just passers-by, of those businesses.
Chris: Back in 2011, in the previous referendum, dealing with the fiber network, that gave the city the authority to do it, there was no candidates running who opposed the referendum. Is that the case again this year?
George: It is the case. The City Council, including the Mayor, voted unanimously to place this issue on the ballot. The Mayor actually wrote a personal letter to every citizen of Longmont, and sent that out, endorsing this effort. And the local newspaper, the Longmont Times-Call, has also endorsed it in one of their editorials.
Chris: Well, it sure sounds like there's a lot of support in moving this forward.
George: Seems to be. The people that I've talked to seem to be overwhelmingly in favor of it, and we certainly hope that carries through this coming November.
Chris: Excellent! Well, is there anything else we should know?
George: Tell everyone you can in Longmont to vote yes for ballot issue 2B.
Lisa: Be sure to visit friendsoffiber.com to learn more about the efforts to pass the referendum. We especially like their catchphrase, "Fiber: It's good for you!" You can learn more about plans to build out the network by following the "Longmont" tag at muninetworks.org . Thanks again for listening to the Broadband Bits Podcast. If there are issues related to telecommunications that pique your interest, we welcome your suggestions for future shows. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can follow us on Twitter, where our handle is @communitynets . This show was released on October 15th, 2013. Thank you to the group Break the Bans for their song, "Escape," licensed using Creative Commons. Thanks for listening.