After beating cable lobby, Colorado city moves ahead with muni broadband
Fort Collins plans universal broadband, net neutrality, and gigabit speeds.
By Jon Brodkin
The city council in Fort Collins, Colorado, last night voted to move ahead with a municipal fiber broadband network providing gigabit speeds, two months after the cable industry failed to stop the project.
Last night's city council vote came after residents of Fort Collins approved a ballot question that authorized the city to build a broadband network. The ballot question, passed in November, didn't guarantee that the network would be built because city council approval was still required, but that hurdle is now cleared. Residents approved the ballot question despite an anti-municipal broadband lobbying campaign backed by groups funded by Comcast and CenturyLink.
This article, like numerous other articles about municipal broadband, fails to mention an important fact: City of Fort Collins already operates its own electric power utility. Thus, it already owns (or has easements for) the rights-of-way, the physical infrastructure (poles, ducts, manholes, towers, buildings), and the administrative infrastructure (customer service, billing, vehicle administration, personnel administration, state sales tax exemption, lines of credit or other means of financing capital projects). It already has employees dedicated to operating, maintaining and extending the infrastructure. And, most significantly, as a municipal corporation it does not have to generate a profit.
All of these factors make it possible for a city or a county to finance, build and operate a broadband network at lower cost than a for-profit corporation.
Fort Collins Utilities certainly isn't unique. Numerous municipalities that own electric power utilities have added fiber broadband networks to their existing electricity distribution infrastructure.
Perhaps the best known example is Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, owned by the City of Chattanooga, Tennessee. EPB owns and operates the electric power network and has overlaid a fiber communications network on the power distribution network.
Some cities operate their own cable TV networks in addition to electric power utilities. Wayandotte, Michigan and Jackson, Minnesota are examples. These cities already had the infrastructure for internet- over-coax even before they overlaid fiber networks.
Wayandotte now operates its own fiber network as part of its telecommunications utility.
Jackson is now a member of the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services network, an organization that provides cable TV and broadband internet- over-fiber to eight cities in southwest Minnesota, including Jackson.
Back in 1990s, before I retired and moved to Texas, I worked for a company that provided technical consulting services to cable TV companies. City of Jackson was one of our clients. I spent many days in Jackson, assisting them with their city-owned cable TV network.
Jackson's cable TV operation was part of the public works department, the same department that ran electric power distribution, water distribution, sanitary sewers, storm sewers, roads, streets, and bridges.
I was struck by the way in which the cable TV operation was so closely integrated into the department. The department's employees all wore the same uniforms, all belonged to the same union local, all drove identical city-owned service vehicles, and all met for coffee in the warehouse every morning.
The warehouse reflected this close integration: cable TV amplifiers shared space with water meters, electric meters, water valves, traffic signals, power insulators, tower lights, streetlights, stop signs, pole hardware, and I don't recall what else. The outdoor storage yard was a similar melange: rolls of power cables, rolls of coax cables, sewer grates, fire hydrants, poles, pole crossarms, more signs, all neatly arranged in rows.