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Berthoud, Colorado Eyes Community Broadband Options

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.”

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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.

Decorah, Iowa Inches Closer To City-Owned Fiber Build With Plan To Reach Finish Line

Decorah, Iowa is moving forward on a long-percolating plan to expand the city’s core fiber ring to provide affordable broadband access to long-neglected residents and businesses.

While the project has been discussed for years, local officials tell ISLR the project gained renewed momentum during peak COVID, and is creeping closer to launch.

Contracts are still being finalized as the city hopes to spend somewhere around $12 to $15 million to deliver fiber to all 3,000 potential subscriber locations. The full project would take about three years to deliver fiber to all 7,740 city residents, with the first subscribers potentially coming online this fall.

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Decorah Metronet fiber map

“Decorah has been in pursuit of fiber to the premises for the last 8 to 9 plus years and we finally have broken through some of our challenges on how to get to the finish line,” Chopper Albert, Decorah IT Director told ISLR.

According to Albert, Decorah’s recent progress is thanks in part to new City Manager Travis Goedken, who has long advocated for expanding the city’s existing fiber network to drive affordable fiber access citywide.

New City Management Team Pushes Forward  

Since 2013 the city has owned an 11-mile core fiber network, dubbed the Decorah MetroNet. MetroNet was born out of frustration after a major flood in 2008 across much of Iowa resulted in prolonged communications network outages.

MetroNet (not to be confused with the Indiana-based ISP that goes by the same name) currently provides access to Luther College and 18 additional government buildings and anchor institutions.

Activists Say Time Is Right To Renew Fight For Community Broadband In Portland

Portland activists are renewing their calls to prioritize the construction of a municipally owned broadband network in the Oregon city of 635,000. With an historic infusion of federal subsidies and a looming shakeup of city politics, advocates for community-owned broadband say the time is right to finally revolutionize city telecom infrastructure with an eye on affordability.

“Ten years ago was a perfect time to embrace community broadband and nothing has changed,” Russell Senior, President of Personal Telco, a nonprofit wireless network, and Municipal Broadband PDX, a nonprofit advocating for publicly-owned fiber networks in Multnomah County, Oregon told ILSR.

“ISPs continue to exercise monopoly power and have their boot on the neck of subscribers,” he said. “The most practical and effective way to get out from under that boot, in light of persistent federal complicity, is local public ownership of the infrastructure that gives them that power.”

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Municipal Broadband PDX logo

Portland has historically been at the very center of the debate over monopoly power and competitive broadband access, and city officials have been contemplating a publicly-owned broadband network for more than 20 years. It’s a concept other Oregon cities, like nearby Hillsboro, adopted years earlier.  

Superior, Wisconsin Greenlights Open Access Fiber Pilot

Superior, Wisconsin officials have given the green light to the first pilot area for Superior’s new city-owned fiber network. Dubbed Connect Superior, the open access fiber network aims to deliver affordable gigabit access to every resident, community anchor institution and business in the city of nearly 27,000.

On July 5, the Superior City Council voted 8-1 to approve deployment in the project’s first pilot area: a swath of around 821 homes and businesses lodged between Tower Avenue, Belknap Street, and North 21st streets. The vote lets the city now begin issuing RFPs for network construction and negotiate with potential network tenants.

In 2020 the city passed a resolution declaring fiber essential infrastructure. In 2021, the city council voted overwhelmingly to move forward on a deployment master plan developed for the city by EntryPoint Networks. The initial $2.26 million cost of the pilot will be paid for with the help of $5 million from the city’s $17 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act funding.

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Superior Wisconsin Fiber map

A citywide deployment, should the city pursue it, is expected to cost somewhere around $31 million. The city remains hopeful that much of the cost can be offset by what it hopes will be a 40 percent take rate among local residents and businesses.

Garden Spot of Utah Moves to Build Bountiful Fiber Network in Face of Dark Money Campaign

In the Salt Lake City suburb some call “the garden spot of Utah,” Bountiful, Utah officials have settled on a plan to bring Bountiful Fiber and affordable connectivity to its residents and businesses.

By unanimous vote of the city council, the issuance of $48 million in bonds was authorized on May 26 to fund construction of what will be a city-owned open access fiber network.

The city will own the network and lease it out to multiple private Internet service providers (ISPs) – a model that city manager Gary Hill described as a way to create “a competitive marketplace for Internet service providers."

In a letter to city councilors before the bond issuance was authorized, Hill wrote: "Resident requests and sentiment ... demonstrate a need for city involvement to provide adequate, competitive, reliable broadband services.”

After issuing an RFP in November of last year, the city contracted with the nation’s largest open access network – UTOPIA Fiber – to build, operate, and maintain the network. It is expected that construction will take about 2 to 3 years to complete, though some subscribers will likely be lit up for service within 18 months of the start of construction, scheduled to begin this month.

Dark Money Looks to Torpedo Project

A dark money campaign spearheaded by the Utah Taxpayers Association (UTA), however, is threatening to derail the project. The group, whose annual conference is sponsored by Comcast and CenturyLink/Lumen, is backing a “Gather Utah” initiative to obtain signatures for a petition that would stop the city from building the network.

Longmont’s NextLight Wins Top Spot In PC Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Award

Longmont, Colorado’s NextLight community fiber network isn’t just delivering fast and affordable fiber access to locals, it’s consistently winning awards nationwide.

The city-owned network has topped PC Magazine’s Readers’ Choice rankings, which asked readers to rate their satisfaction with their residential broadband providers. Nextlight was also rated as the top gaming ISP of 2023, and was rated the fastest ISP in the nation in 2018 and the second fastest ISP by the magazine last year.

The city was also rated the 17th best work-at-home city in another 2022 survey. This latest survey asked magazine readers to assess ISP satisfaction based on speed, reliability and value. NextLight excelled at all three.

“NextLight's near-perfect scores, including an astronomic 9.9 for overall satisfaction, are unprecedented in the history of PCMag's surveys of ISPs,” the magazine noted. “The company's lowest score is for setup, and yet that number is still higher than almost any other rating earned by another ISP in any category.”

Colorado Repeal Of Community Broadband Ban A Turning Point Decades In The Making

Colorado state leaders have voted to eliminate long-criticized state barriers to municipal broadband networks. Community broadband advocates hope it will be a beacon for other states eager to bring more reliable and affordable high-speed Internet service to a market long dominated by monopoly providers.

The Colorado decision, made after years of citizen backlash to the counterproductive restrictions, is the latest inflection point in a retreat away from monopoly-backed state laws stifling creative efforts to bridge the digital divide.

On May 1, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 23-183. The new law formally eliminates an older 2005 law backed by regional telecom monopolies, which imposed cumbersome and onerous restrictions on Colorado towns and cities looking to build better, more affordable community-owned and operated broadband networks.

“SB23-183 removes the biggest obstacle to achieving the Governor’s goal to connect 99% of Colorado households by the end of 2027,” Colorado Broadband Office Executive Director Brandy Reitter said of the decision. “Each local government is in a unique position or different phase of connecting residents to high-speed internet, and this bill allows them to establish broadband plans that meet the needs of their communities.”

Colorado state leaders say the repeal puts them in a prime position to capitalize on numerous digital equity programs designed to address Colorado’s digital divide, as well as the more than $42 billion in broadband subsidies soon to be distributed courtesy of the recently-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

“With large amounts of federal funding coming from the IIJA bill, we wanted communities to be ready to receive this money,” Colorado Representative Brianna Titone told ILSR.

Last year, Governor Polis signed an executive order formally setting a goal of connecting 99% of Colorado households by the end of 2027. Colorado state leaders have previously stated they expect their share of IIJA/BEAD funding to be between $400 and $700 million; money that can now be used more broadly on a diverse array of creative broadband solutions.

Boulder, Colorado Gets Ready to Roll on Citywide Fiber Network

With the construction of its 65-mile dark fiber backbone nearly complete, city officials in Boulder, Colorado are now ready to move into the next phase of their plan: test the waters for a partnership with private or nonprofit Internet service providers (ISPs) to build out a citywide fiber network to deliver last mile service to the city’s 104,000 residents and businesses.

Last week, the city issued a Request for Information (RFI) “to gauge the interest of for-profit and nonprofit entities in forming a public–private partnership (PPP) with the city to make Gigabit per second-class bandwidth available to all Boulder homes and businesses.”

“As we prepare for further City Council discussion on a future community broadband operating model, it is imperative that we understand the market potential for a PPP (public-private partnership) to meet the city’s goals related to connectivity. We look forward to responses that consider a variety of business models to share technological and operational responsibilities and financial risk with the city in innovative ways,” Innovation and Technology Deputy Director Mike Giansanti said in a press statement when the RFI was issued.

The city is looking for a partner or partners that will come to table with new ideas, create competition, and either fully fund or share costs.

Having prioritized a city-wide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) build, city officials have identified two main goals: serve the growing demand for “affordable, reliable, and sophisticated broadband technology; and support a thriving business environment.”

Responses to the RFI are due by May 19 at 4 pm MDT.

City officials say they will consider a range of construction and operation designs as well as a variety of ownership models as the City Council will likely vote on the path forward and the execution of a contract sometime this year.

New Bill Could Make Colorado Friendly State for Municipal Broadband

Earlier this month, a new Colorado bill was introduced that, if passed, would rid the state of a law designed to protect monopoly Internet service providers (ISPs) from competition.

SB-183, titled “Local Government Provision Of Communications Services,” seeks to gut a law Big Telecom pushed state lawmakers to pass in 2005. That law, known as SB-152, prevented any of Colorado’s 272 municipalities from building and operating their own telecommunication infrastructure unless local voters first passed a referendum to “opt out.”

End of ‘the Qwest Law’?

Known also as “the Qwest law,” Qwest (now Lumen but more recently CenturyLink), with the help of Comcast, leaned on legislative allies to pass SB-152 to protect their monopoly profits. On our Community Broadband Bits podcast, Ken Fellman and Jeff Wilson, prominent telecom attorneys, recount how lobbyists for the monopoly ISPs were instrumental in pushing two false, but effective, narratives we’ve seen many times before: that SB-152 only sought to “level the playing field” so that private companies could compete with municipally run networks, and that SB-152 “protected” Coloradoans from irresponsible local governments, as if there were no such things as local elections.

But, if passed, the new proposed legislation (SB-183) – co-sponsored by a bipartisan-ish group of state legislators (10 Democrats and 2 Republicans) – would neuter SB-152 and allow local communities to decide for themselves if they wanted to pursue municipal broadband without needing special permission from the state.

Summit County, Ohio Building $75 Million, 125-Mile Fiber Ring

Summit County, Ohio says it’s making progress on a $75 million, 125-mile fiber-optic ring made possible courtesy of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The project will start by providing gigabit connectivity to all county first responders, after which county leaders say they’ll focus on shoring up lagging broadband access to long-neglected communities.

A 2017 report by an outside consultant found that Summit County, like so much of America, struggles with a dearth of affordable broadband access thanks to a heavily monopolized U.S. broadband market. The county’s fixed-line broadband market is dominated by two major incumbents, Centurylink and Comcast, and wireless access remains spotty across large swatches of the county’s more rural territories.

Introduced last year, Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro noted the network will first connect all 31 city, village and township governments to gigabit speed broadband and a data center. The network is expected to cost as much as $75 million. $35 million of that total will be pulled from the $105 million in ARPA funding received by the county.

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Summit County Ohio police vehicle

Summit County’s interest in more affordable broadband extends back years. County leaders played a key role in beating back monopoly efforts in the state legislature to effectively ban publicly-owned broadband networks. Once those efforts were defeated, county leaders began formulating their broadband expansion plans in earnest.