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Loveland Pulse Races Ahead – Episode 443 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

The Front Range in Colorado has been a hotbed of activity recently, and just before Christmas we wrote about how Fort Collins, Estes Park, and Loveland are all pursuing projects to bring better connectivity to residents in the region. This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Fiber Manager Brieana Reed-Harmel and Marketing and Communications Manager Lindsey Johansen from Loveland’s Pulse network to get some more questions answered.

The network in the city of 79,000 is just finishing its first year of construction. Brieana and Lindsey share with Chris the history behind the birth of the network back to 2014, talk about what success would look like in five years, and share what it has taken to become a valued, local broadband utility for residents of Loveland. They also reveal how they’re working together with Fort Collins and Estes Park to share costs and bring efficiencies to all the municipal networks in the region.

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Removing Roadblocks on Bridge Over Digital Divide: Explaining the Affordable, Accessible Internet for All Act - Part 5

While the bulk of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act proposes to invest $100 billion to expand broadband access in unserved and underserved parts of the country, the legislation also looks to build an essential bridge across the digital divide that goes beyond new infrastructure. An important part of the equation involves addressing laws and policies that have proven to be obstacles to Internet connectivity for tens of millions of Americans.

In our previous installments examining the AAIA, we covered the big-ticket items – the why, how and where the $100+ billion would be invested. This final installment in the series covers the last three major sections of the bill: Title IV – Community Broadband; Title V – Broadband Infrastructure Deployment; and Title VI – Repeal of Rule and Prohibition on Use of NPRM.

These last three sections of the AAIA do not call for any federal appropriations but instead aim to tackle several thorny policy challenges.

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Removing State Barriers to Municipal Broadband Initiatives

Title IV – Community Broadband (Section 4001) of the bill is straight-forward. It would prohibit state governments from enforcing laws or regulations that prevent local governments, public-private partnerships, and cooperatives from delivering broadband service.

Fired Up About Fiber on The Front Range

Over 140 municipalities in Colorado have opted out of a state law (SB-152) that prevents local governments from investing in broadband infrastructure. With overwhelming support from voters on Election Day last month, Denver, Berthoud, and Englewood became the most recent Colorado communities to bail on SB-152 in the 15 years since Qwest (now CenturyLink) and Comcast successfully lobbied for passage of the anti-local authority bill designed to protect their profits.

While Denver, Berthoud, and Englewood residents ponder next steps, a number of other Colorado communities have already built, or are in the process of building, municipally-owned broadband networks, the most successful example being the NextLight Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) network in Longmont.

NextLight, which began building its award-winning FTTH network in 2014, now offers Longmont’s 90,000 residents access to gigabit (1,000 Mbps) service and has surpassed a 50% take rate.

Three other communities in the Front Range region of Colorado are now on the front lines of building municipal broadband networks.

Loveland

Loveland, a city of 76,700 situated in a 25.5 square mile valley at the entrance to Big Thompson Canyon, opted out of SB-152 with 82% voter approval in 2015, a year after Longmont began building its fiber network 17 miles south of the “gateway to the Rockies.”

Over the past five years, the Loveland Water and Power Department has been planning, and now building, its own Pulse fiber network.

To finance the project, city officials opted to issue $95.5 million in bonds. The bonds are backed by Loveland’s electric utility, which serves 37,500 residential and commercial accounts.

Colorado’s Qwest Law: A Decade and a Half Later - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 415

It’s been 15 years since Colorado passed SB 152, the state law intended to restrict communities from building and managing their own broadband networks. A great deal has happened since: more than 140 communities have voted to opt out of the law, and networks like Longmont’s NextLight have been success stories in municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).

In this episode Christopher talks to Ken Fellman and Geoff Wilson. Ken and Geoff were at the heart of the story back in 2005. They describe how Qwest (now CenturyLink) along with Comcast used legislative allies to introduce the anti-local authority bill aimed at protecting their profits. They share how the monopoly Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) lobbyists helped push two false narratives that we’ve seen many times before: that the bill sought to “level the playing field” so that private companies could compete with municipally run networks, and that SB152 “protected” Coloradoans from irresponsible local governments.

Christopher, Ken, and Geoff unpack the nuance of such arguments, which monopoly ISPs have used time and time again around the country, that place prohibitive burdens on local actors. They also cover developments over the last decade and a half, and talk about how while SB 152 had a negative impact on the development of municipal networks and broadband infrastructure in the short-term, we might consider how the long-term has shown how so many Colorado communities were compelled to action.

We’ve covered Colorado’s SB 152 a number of times in the past. Recently, the first phase of middle-mile network Project Thor turned on, introducing redundancy and bringing cost savings with it. Glenwood Springs, the first community to opt out, is in the process of extended its own FTTH network citywide.

This show is 60 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Dark Fiber Brings the Light: A Public-Private Partnership in Colorado

After years of hearing from its citizens and business owners that Internet access was one of Fort Morgan’s most pressing problems, the Colorado city of 11,000 decided to do something about it. Like dozens of other communities around the state, in 2009 residents approved a ballot measure to opt out of SB 152, the 2005 state law preventing municipalities from offering broadband. (Today, more than 100 local goverments have opted out.)

Ten years later, a little forethought, hard work, and a public-private partnership with ALLO Communications has brought gigabit speeds and low prices to everyone in Fort Morgan over the city's dark fiber network.

Taking the First Steps

Between 2013 and 2015 Fort Morgan conducted a feasibility study while assessing its needs in the early stages of a plan to expand the city's existing fiber network connecting anchor institutions — itself the result of the state’s 2002 Beanpole Telecommunications Project [pdf] — to residents and businesses. The city reiterated the necessity of an affordable, reliable network in the 2016 Connect Fort Morgan [pdf] plan update. In May Fort Morgan awarded the initial design project to Manweiler Telecom Consulting, Inc., the firm that had built the city’s original fiber network a decade and a half before. The city paid $160,000 for the initial phase of the system’s design.

Glenwood Springs Continues Its Tradition of Looking Ahead With Fiber Network Expansion

Lighting up the first phase of middle-mile network Project THOR isn’t the only good news coming out of northwest Colorado recently. Glenwood Springs, a city of 10,000 forty-five minutes north of Aspen, is once again looking to secure the future of its information infrastructure.

In a recent 6-1 decision, the city council voted to replace and expand the reach of its existing fiber system, which currently serves businesses and a select number of residents. The resulting network of 150 miles is projected to cost around $9 million and take two years to complete. Once done, current users will be switched over with no disruption. The new network will be citywide and have the capacity to handle Glenwood Springs’ 4,800 residences and commercial premises. Hopes are, many will sign up.

Building up a Fiber Legacy

This isn’t the first time Glenwood Springs has taken such initiative. Almost twenty years ago the city had access to speeds below one megabit per second (Mbps) and — after being told by Qwest (now CenturyLink) there were no plans for investment or upgrades — it built its own fiber backbone to community anchor institutions with a wireless overlay to provide service to residential customers. The city later expanded the fiber network to connect businesses and some households and opened up the network for participation by private Internet service providers (ISPs).

Checking in With Fort Collins Fiber Network, Connexion- Community Broadband Bits Episode 408

After a bitter battle with Comcast and a successful referendum to reclaim local authority back in 2017, Fort Collins, Colorado, is moving forward with its municipal fiber network, Connexion. The city is starting to connect residents to the network, so we wanted to check back in with local activists and Connexion staff to find out how it's going. In this episode, Christopher interviews community advocates Glen Akins and Colin Garfield as well as Colman Keane, Connexion executive director, and Erin Shanley, Connexion marketing manager.

Glen and Colin discuss their grassroots organizing efforts from the 2017 referendum, and they share what it's like to finally watch the network being built. Colin, who has Internet access from Connexion now, describes the installation process for his new fiber service. The pair also tell Christopher how incumbent providers are reacting to the municipal network.

Speaking from the city's point of view, Colman and Erin explain how Connexion differs from other municipal networks, including that it faces competition from other broadband providers in Fort Collins. Christopher praises the city's decision many years ago to underground all utilities, and Colman tells Christopher how that has introduced challenges to the network fiber build. Erin shares how the Connexion is marketing services and engaging with the community, while keeping information away from competitors and staying mindful that the network isn't yet available citywide.

For more on Fort Collins and Connexion, listen to Community Broadband Bits Episode 211: Fort Collins Mayor on Fort Collins Fiber Future and Episode 282: Organizing for a Community Network, Against Big Cable

This show is 46 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Project THOR Public-Private Partnership Hammers Out Path to Better Connectivity in Colorado

There’s a new Thor in town, but instead of lighting up the night sky like the Norse god of thunder, it’ll be lighting up communities in rural Colorado with fiber optic connectivity.

A group of local governments and private partners, led by Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG), recently completed the first phase of Project THOR, a middle mile fiber network that will enable better connectivity in the participating towns, cities, and counties. The network, owned by NWCCOG, provides backhaul to local governments looking to connect public facilities, schools, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions. It’s also available to Internet service providers (ISPs) to serve residents and businesses.

Project THOR brings much needed redundancy to the region’s broadband infrastructure, where previously a single fiber cut could take entire communities’ health and public safety services offline. It also promises great cost savings for localities and ISPs. Perhaps most importantly, the new network gives communities the necessary leverage to improve local connectivity beyond begging the incumbent providers for better broadband. Jon Stavney, executive director of NWCCOG explained on Community Broadband Bits episode 406:

This project allows these local governments to actually have a lever to pull to hopefully affect local service, however they can do that, with whatever partners come to the table . . . They’re able to actually act.

Building Toward a Network

NWCCOG, which is composed of member governments in and around Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin, and Summit Counties, coordinated broadband efforts in the region even before Project THOR began. A number of years ago, the council invested in a regional plan and hired a broadband coordinator, Nate Walowitz, to offer technical assistance to the member governments.

Heroic Partners Bring Middle Mile Fiber to Northwest Colorado With Project THOR - Community Broadband Bits Episode 406

The breathtaking mountains of northwest Colorado have long attracted skiers and hikers, but broadband providers haven't found the region's rugged landscape and sparse population as appealing. Enter Project THOR, a middle mile fiber network developed out of a collaboration among local governments and private companies led by the Northwest Colorado Council of Goverments (NWCCOG). Over the last few years, the partners strung together more than 400 miles of fiber to provide reliable and affordable backhaul to municipal facilities, public schools, healthcare systems, and Internet access providers.

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks with Jon Stavney, executive director of NWCCOG, and Evan Biagi, executive vice president of business development for network operator Mammoth Networks, to learn more about the recently completed project. Jon describes past broadband efforts in the region that led into Project THOR. The pair explain how the new middle mile network will allow localities to connect municipal facilities and anchor instutions and how broadband providers or the communities themselves can build off the network to serve residents and businesses. This will improve broadband reliability and affordability in the region, which had previously been plagued by network outages that cut access for hospitals and 911 calls.

Jon and Evan also discuss how the partners lowered project costs by leveraging existing infrastructure. They share some of the challenges involved in designing a network with so many partners. At the end, Jon explains how Project THOR will give communities more opportunities to take action on local connectivity instead of just impatiently waiting for better broadband.

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Report: Pew Charitable Trusts Researchers Examine State Broadband Efforts

In September 2019, we interviewed Kathryn DeWit from the Broadband Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts about their State Broadband Policy Explorer. The tool documents state laws aimed at expanding broadband access. Now, the group has released a reported titled, How States Are Expanding Broadband Access, that examines developments in nine states where broadband availability has improved after implementing state efforts. The report dives into what those states are doing that works and makes recommendations to emulate those policies and repeat that positive trajectory.

Read the full report here.

All Hands on Deck

One of the primary discoveries from the report is that states are using many technologies and funding approaches to bring high-quality Internet access to those who have been left behind. Like other projects that involved multiple stakeholders and public funding, Pew learned that building broadband support and requiring accountability are factors that contribute to success.

Pew examined efforts in California, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. They also looked at Minnesota, where the Border to Border Development Grant Broadband Program provides funding for projects in areas where connectivity is slow and unreliable or where people have no service options at all. In Minnesota, notes the report, the state has established measurable and increasing speed goals and allows funding to flow to a broad range of recipients, including local governments, rural cooperatives, tribal governments, and large corporate Internet access providers.