Big Thompson Elementary School, located on the far west side of Loveland near Rocky Mountain National Park, now gets gigabit service from Loveland Pulse.
It’s been 15 years since Colorado passed SB 152, the state law intended to restrict communities from building and managing their own broadband networks. A great deal has happened since: more than 140 communities have voted to opt out of the law, and networks like Longmont’s NextLight have been success stories in municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).
In this episode Christopher talks to Ken Fellman and Geoff Wilson. Ken and Geoff were at the heart of the story back in 2005. They describe how Qwest (now CenturyLink) along with Comcast used legislative allies to introduce the anti-local authority bill aimed at protecting their profits. They share how the monopoly Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) lobbyists helped push two false narratives that we’ve seen many times before: that the bill sought to “level the playing field” so that private companies could compete with municipally run networks, and that SB152 “protected” Coloradoans from irresponsible local governments.
Christopher, Ken, and Geoff unpack the nuance of such arguments, which monopoly ISPs have used time and time again around the country, that place prohibitive burdens on local actors. They also cover developments over the last decade and a half, and talk about how while SB 152 had a negative impact on the development of municipal networks and broadband infrastructure in the short-term, we might consider how the long-term has shown how so many Colorado communities were compelled to action.
We’ve covered Colorado’s SB 152 a number of times in the past. Recently, the first phase of middle-mile network Project Thor turned on, introducing redundancy and bringing cost savings with it. Glenwood Springs, the first community to opt out, is in the process of extended its own FTTH network citywide.
This show is 60 minutes long and can be played on this page or...Read more
After years of hearing from its citizens and business owners that Internet access was one of Fort Morgan’s most pressing problems, the Colorado city of 11,000 decided to do something about it. Like dozens of other communities around the state, in 2009 residents approved a ballot measure to opt out of SB 152, the 2005 state law preventing municipalities from offering broadband. (Today, more than 100 local goverments have opted out.)
Ten years later, a little forethought, hard work, and a public-private partnership with ALLO Communications has brought gigabit speeds and low prices to everyone in Fort Morgan over the city's dark fiber network.
Taking the First Steps
Between 2013 and 2015 Fort Morgan conducted a feasibility study while assessing its needs in the early stages of a plan to expand the city's existing fiber network connecting anchor institutions — itself the result of the state’s 2002 Beanpole Telecommunications Project [pdf] — to residents and businesses. The city reiterated the necessity of an affordable, reliable network in the 2016 Connect Fort Morgan [pdf] plan update. In May Fort Morgan awarded the initial design project to Manweiler Telecom Consulting, Inc., the firm that had built the city’s original fiber network a decade and a half before. The city paid $160,000 for the initial phase of the system’s design.
On May 4, 2017, the city issued a Request for Information (RFI) which identified either a public-private partnership or a franchise model for the forthcoming operation and management of the network. As part of the RFI, the city indicated its desire to integrate into the upcoming network the city’s...Read more
Lighting up the first phase of middle-mile network Project THOR isn’t the only good news coming out of northwest Colorado recently. Glenwood Springs, a city of 10,000 forty-five minutes north of Aspen, is once again looking to secure the future of its information infrastructure.
In a recent 6-1 decision, the city council voted to replace and expand the reach of its existing fiber system, which currently serves businesses and a select number of residents. The resulting network of 150 miles is projected to cost around $9 million and take two years to complete. Once done, current users will be switched over with no disruption. The new network will be citywide and have the capacity to handle Glenwood Springs’ 4,800 residences and commercial premises. Hopes are, many will sign up.
Building up a Fiber Legacy
This isn’t the first time Glenwood Springs has taken such initiative. Almost twenty years ago the city had access to speeds below one megabit per second (Mbps) and — after being told by Qwest (now CenturyLink) there were no plans for investment or upgrades — it built its own fiber backbone to community anchor institutions with a wireless overlay to provide service to residential customers. The city later expanded the fiber network to connect businesses and some households and opened up the network for participation by private Internet service providers (ISPs).
In defiance of a 2005 state law intended to prevent municipalities from building and operating their own networks, Glenwood Springs was also the first community to opt out of Senate Bill 152. That was 2008. Since then more than 100 communities have followed suit. Longmont, a city of 90,000 five miles north of...Read more
After a bitter battle with Comcast and a successful referendum to reclaim local authority back in 2017, Fort Collins, Colorado, is moving forward with its municipal fiber network, Connexion. The city is starting to connect residents to the network, so we wanted to check back in with local activists and Connexion staff to find out how it's going. In this episode, Christopher interviews community advocates Glen Akins and Colin Garfield as well as Colman Keane, Connexion executive director, and Erin Shanley, Connexion marketing manager.
Glen and Colin discuss their grassroots organizing efforts from the 2017 referendum, and they share what it's like to finally watch the network being built. Colin, who has Internet access from Connexion now, describes the installation process for his new fiber service. The pair also tell Christopher how incumbent providers are reacting to the municipal network.
Speaking from the city's point of view, Colman and Erin explain how Connexion differs from other municipal networks, including that it faces competition from other broadband providers in Fort Collins. Christopher praises the city's decision many years ago to underground all utilities, and Colman tells Christopher how that has introduced challenges to the network fiber build. Erin shares how the Connexion is marketing services and engaging with the community, while keeping information away from competitors and staying mindful that the network isn't yet available citywide.
For more on Fort Collins and...Read more
There’s a new Thor in town, but instead of lighting up the night sky like the Norse god of thunder, it’ll be lighting up communities in rural Colorado with fiber optic connectivity.
A group of local governments and private partners, led by Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG), recently completed the first phase of Project THOR, a middle mile fiber network that will enable better connectivity in the participating towns, cities, and counties. The network, owned by NWCCOG, provides backhaul to local governments looking to connect public facilities, schools, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions. It’s also available to Internet service providers (ISPs) to serve residents and businesses.
Project THOR brings much needed redundancy to the region’s broadband infrastructure, where previously a single fiber cut could take entire communities’ health and public safety services offline. It also promises great cost savings for localities and ISPs. Perhaps most importantly, the new network gives communities the necessary leverage to improve local connectivity beyond begging the incumbent providers for better broadband. Jon Stavney, executive director of NWCCOG explained on Community Broadband Bits episode 406:
This project allows these local governments to actually have a lever to pull to hopefully affect local service, however they can do that, with whatever partners come to the table . . . They’re able to actually act.
Building Toward a Network
NWCCOG, which is composed of member governments in and around Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin, and Summit Counties, coordinated broadband efforts in the region even before Project THOR began. A number of years ago, the council invested in a regional plan and hired a broadband coordinator, Nate Walowitz, to offer technical assistance to the member governments.
At the time, communities were taking a variety of approaches to bolster connectivity. Some wanted to provide broadband access directly to residents, like Rio Blanco County which owns an open access Fiber-to-the-Home network....Read more
The breathtaking mountains of northwest Colorado have long attracted skiers and hikers, but broadband providers haven't found the region's rugged landscape and sparse population as appealing. Enter Project THOR, a middle mile fiber network developed out of a collaboration among local governments and private companies led by the Northwest Colorado Council of Goverments (NWCCOG). Over the last few years, the partners strung together more than 400 miles of fiber to provide reliable and affordable backhaul to municipal facilities, public schools, healthcare systems, and Internet access providers.
This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks with Jon Stavney, executive director of NWCCOG, and Evan Biagi, executive vice president of business development for network operator Mammoth Networks, to learn more about the recently completed project. Jon describes past broadband efforts in the region that led into Project THOR. The pair explain how the new middle mile network will allow localities to connect municipal facilities and anchor instutions and how broadband providers or the communities themselves can build off the network to serve residents and businesses. This will improve broadband reliability and affordability in the region, which had previously been plagued by network outages that cut access for hospitals and 911 calls.
Jon and Evan also discuss how the partners lowered project costs by leveraging existing infrastructure. They share some of the challenges involved in designing a network with so many partners. At the end, Jon explains how Project THOR will give communities more opportunities to take action...Read more
In September 2019, we interviewed Kathryn DeWit from the Broadband Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts about their State Broadband Policy Explorer. The tool documents state laws aimed at expanding broadband access. Now, the group has released a reported titled, How States Are Expanding Broadband Access, that examines developments in nine states where broadband availability has improved after implementing state efforts. The report dives into what those states are doing that works and makes recommendations to emulate those policies and repeat that positive trajectory.
All Hands on Deck
One of the primary discoveries from the report is that states are using many technologies and funding approaches to bring high-quality Internet access to those who have been left behind. Like other projects that involved multiple stakeholders and public funding, Pew learned that building broadband support and requiring accountability are factors that contribute to success.
Pew examined efforts in California, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. They also looked at Minnesota, where the Border to Border Development Grant Broadband Program provides funding for projects in areas where connectivity is slow and unreliable or where people have no service options at all. In Minnesota, notes the report, the state has established measurable and increasing speed goals and allows funding to flow to a broad range of recipients, including local governments, rural cooperatives, tribal governments, and large corporate Internet access providers.
Minnesota also provides a challenge process, which has been used by some of the larger ISPs in the past to delay plans for community-centered projects,...Read more
Make it to Colorado in the spring for Mountain Connect on May 18th - 20th. This is one of Christopher's favorite events located at the picturesque Keystone Resort and Conference Center in the Rockies. This year's theme is "Broadband: The Great Enabler for Disruptive Technologies."
Many past attendees cite the regional focus of Mountain Connect as one of the reasons they find the event especially valuable.
The mission of Mountain Connect is to move our western US communities forward by providing relevant and targeted content to help them make the most effective decisions as they build new or expand existing telecommunications infrastructure that enable the long-term vision of a community. We are agnostic of the technology that delivers broadband and as such, believe this provides a well-balanced foundation to make an educated and informed decision with input from industry and community leaders from across the US. Finally, we believe in looking forward and are inclusive of trending technologies that will shape our broadband future.
Expect to hear from some top-notch speakers, including:
- Jeff Christensen from Entrypoint Networks
- Angela Siefer from National Digital Inclusion Alliance
- Colman Keane from the City of Fort Collins
The agenda is still being solidified, but some of the topics to be included on panel discussions and from speakers include:
- The Impact of Emerging Technologies
- Why Master Planning is Paramount to Long-term Success
- Unique Funding Alternatives
- Policy and Legislative Considerations
- 5G/Small Cell
- Update on the progress on our Public Safety Broadband Network
- Economic Development
- Experimental Wireless Technologies with our Research & Academic Partners
- Community Development
NextLight, the municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in Longmont, Colorado, has been serving residents and businesses in the community since 2014 and offers reliable gigabit connectivity at affordable rates. This week, Director of NextLight, Valerie Dodd, is on the show to discuss the past, present, and future of NextLight with Christopher.
NextLight has implemented some special marketing and customer service techniques, which has helped achieve the high take rate that continues to grow. As the network expands to all areas of the city, Longmont has used some creative approaches and contended with a few challenges to connect residents and businesses. Valerie and Christopher talk about some of these decisions and how those choices have panned out.
They also discuss the community's commitment to digital inclusion and how it's paying off in an increasingly diverse and growing city. Valerie describes how her experience with a private sector provider has contributed to NextLight's focus on subscribers and breaks down some of the key differences between a traditional municipal utility, such as an electric service, and broadband service from the city.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.Read more