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What Fort Collins, CO Should Consider Before Municipal Broadband

March 24, 2015

iStock_000003994351MediumLast week The Coloradoan reported that Fort Collins city council members continue to discuss whether to build a municipal broadband network. A few items worth noting:

  • The city spent $300,000 in taxpayer funds to come up with a “strategic plan” for a government-owned system. The study comes as Fort Collins voters are facing higher sales taxes to cover the costs of other capital improvement projects.
  • According to The Coloradoan, “Establishing its own service, however, is the most costly option Fort Collins can take to address future broadband needs.”
  • The report said “a cursory search of the city council’s e-mail archives” show “some residents clamoring” for new broadband options. (Emphasis added.) The article doesn’t quantify how many residents, but it does indicate city council members may be sharing residents’ emails with the media in order to gain support for the network.
  • The Coloradoan referred to the state’s municipal broadband law as a “ban.” The law does not ban government-owned networks (GONs), it merely requires a majority vote of city residents to approve them.
  • The city of Longmont, Colo. has so far spent $40.3 million on its GON, or about $448 for each of Longmont’s 89,919 residents. However, Longmont’s network doesn’t reach all residents. It only reaches 3,300, or 3.7 percent. Of those 3,300, only 711 have subscribed to service – or 0.8 percent of the city’s population. That means the network actually cost $56,681 per subscriber.
  • The article touts the fact that Longmont residents can get gigabit download speeds for as little as $49.95, but that figure comes with a huge caveat. Potential customers should read the fine print because, in a footnote, The Coloradoan noted, “Lower price reflects charter membership for those who sign up within three months of service becoming available. Higher price applies to standard customers.”
  • Fort Collins officials admitted they might need they might need help from the private sector to keep its network on the cutting edge. According to The Coloradoan, “[City Councilman Wade] Troxell said he ideally envisions a public-private partnership being used to cover Fort Collins in high-speed Internet.” Troxell asked, “If the public does it solely, then how do you keep it cutting edge?”

That’s a good question, and one Fort Collins residents should ask before approving any plan to build a government-owned network in their city.