July 12, 2017
The city of Greeley, Colo. recently decided to join another Colorado town, Windsor, in producing a broadband feasibility study. The study, which Windsor Now reports will cost a total of $85,000 ($35,000 from Windsor and $50,000 from Greeley) will examine consumer demand for a municipal broadband network and determine options for building such a system.
Officials would release the study this fall and have said they then might put the question before voters in November. (Colorado law requires that localities ask residents whether or not they would support a municipal system.)
In a recent column in the Greeley Tribune, Dr. Ronald Rizzuto, a finance professor at the University of Denver and a telecommunications expert, advised that Greeley voters reject the study, and the idea of a municipal broadband network. When it comes to government-owned broadband, he warned: “buyer beware.”
According to Windsor Now, when voters go to the polls in November they might not have any idea how much a municipal network will cost them. In his column, Dr. Rizzuto tries to outline the costs. He notes that Longmont, Colo. has amassed “up to $67 million in debt” for its NextLight service. NextLight has about 10,600 subscribers, which means the network so far has cost more than $6,300 per user. That’s simply the cost to date. As Dr. Rizzuto notes, NextLight will require additional investments in order to stay competitive “amid fierce private-sector competition.” (Several private providers already offer, or are expanding service, in Colorado, Dr. Rizzuto explains.)
Dr. Rizzuto says that Greeley taxpayers should ask tough questions before considering a “yes” vote this November. That includes asking whether electricity ratepayers would have to bail out the municipal broadband network if it fails. Dr. Rizzuto notes that, in Longmont, “electric ratepayers of Longmont Power and Communications [LPC] are the financial backstop, even if they” don’t subscribe to the municipal broadband service. Dr. Rizzuto explains that, according to a 2013 story in the Longmont Times-Call, “If revenues from commercial and residential customers fall short, LPC’s electric service revenues will be used to make up the shortfall …”
According to Broadband Now, competition already exists in Greeley. Most city residents have a choice between at least two fixed broadband providers. There are five wireless broadband providers that serve all of Greeley.
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