Berthoud, Colorado Eyes Community Broadband Options

Berthoud Colo city seal

Berthoud, Colorado, population 11,717, is the latest Colorado community to explore community broadband alternatives to expand public access to affordable fiber. Currently in the process of crafting a request for quote (RFQ), the city tells ILSR it hopes to make its final determination by November and have a preliminary plan in place by the end of the year.

Originally, Berthoud had planned on forming a coalition with three neighboring Colorado towns (Johnstown, Mead and Milliken) in a bid to expand access. That plan involved striking a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Lincoln, Nebraska based Allo Communications, to deliver fiber to every address within three years.

But city leaders say the original plan wasn’t meant to be.

“The four communities did not strike a deal with Allo,” Berthoud Business Development Manager Walt Elish told ILSR. “We could not come to terms. Since then, we have looked at other options, including a town-owned network.”

Berthoud Welcome Sign

As with many towns and counties, the high cost of a municipally owned broadband network has the city examining different options, including a potential public private partnership (PPP) with existing providers. PPPs are increasingly common but can have their downsides, including less municipal control over pricing or the potential trajectory of the finished network.

A memo of an August meeting on the city’s broadband options indicates the city believes it will cost somewhere around $19 million to deliver affordable fiber to every city address. While a full fiscal impact analysis has yet to be completed by the city, the memo makes it clear that the lower up front cost of a PPP (P3) appeals to city planners.

“After learning more about the P3 option, staff felt it was our responsibility to bring this option to the Board for consideration since we believe it is a viable opportunity to deploy quality fiber infrastructure throughout the town, while still having some control in the installation and operation, at a fraction of the cost of other models,” the memo states.

Berthoud Colo Google Map

That said, Elish made it clear that all options remain on the table, and the final project will be determined by the quality of the reception to the RFQ.

“Currently, we are drafting an RFQ to distribute to potential interested partners,” Elish said. “We hope to make a recommendation to our board by the first meeting in November, assuming we receive quality responses to the RFQ. It’ll depend on how the negotiations go.”

As with countless other U.S. towns and cities, Berthoud residents have long been frustrated with the high costs, spotty access, and slow speeds of existing broadband options. That frustration, a direct byproduct of limited competition between politically-powerful telecom giants Comcast (Xfinity) and Lumen (formerly Centurylink), only grew during the pandemic.

Colorado cities have consistently been at the cutting edge of building community-owned broadband alternatives to monopoly power. Municipal broadband networks in nearby cities like Longmont, Fort Collins and Loveland, which recently announced a partnership with the town of Timnath to extend its Pulse Fiber network into Timnath.

Such efforts were greatly aided by this year’s repeal of a 2005 state law, crafted by telecom giants, specifically aimed at undermining community broadband deployments and protecting a profitable but broken status quo. They’ll also be aided by the estimated $826 million in broadband subsidies Colorado is set to receive courtesy of the 2021 infrastructure bill.

Inline image of Berthoud Welcome sign courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)