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From Colorado to Texas, municipal broadband providers continue to rack up industry accolades, not just for delivering fiber service–the gold standard of Internet connectivity–but for these networks’ ability to provide ubiquitous access across an entire community at affordable rates.
The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) recently announced that its Community Broadband Projects of the Year Awards for 2023 will go to the Connexion network in Fort Collins, Colorado and TeamPharr.net in Pharr, Texas.
Awarding Community-Wide Access and Affordability
The Fort Collins award is in recognition for the city having established “a municipal broadband utility created by and for the community to improve the life of all 80,000 residential and commercial properties of Fort Collins through better, more affordable Internet,” NATOA said in announcing the award.
But it wasn’t just because Fort Collins’ network provides city-wide access to fiber. The award also recognizes that “Connexion offers the fastest Internet speeds available at affordable prices (emphasis added) as well as competitive phone and TV services.”
Loveland’s municipal broadband utility Pulse is a heartbeat away from expanding into a small neighboring Colorado town eager to offer its residents the same attractive, high-quality Internet access that can be found in Larimer County’s biggest cities.
Officials in Loveland and Timnath, Colorado (pop. 7,800) recently announced the ratification of an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) that greenlight’s a plan to bring ubiquitous, affordable high-speed Internet access to yet another community in the Centennial State, as an increasing number of Colorado cities and towns embrace municipal broadband after years of frustration with the inadequate, high-priced service from the region’s monopoly incumbents.
"The selection of Pulse as our broadband service provider reflects a thorough process of assessment and consideration,” Timnath Town Planner Brian Williamson said in a press statement after the agreement was approved. “We are excited to work together, leveraging their expertise to ensure our residents have access to reliable, high-speed Internet that will contribute to the growth and prosperity of Timnath."
Keeping Up With The Loveland’s
This week Williamson spoke to ILSR about the project and why a town-wide fiber network is such valuable and vital infrastructure.
“Timnath is an interesting place. We are predominantly a residential community and we are growing quickly,” he said, adding that in a post-pandemic world of distance learning, remote work, and telehealth, an important part of the mix when people decide where to live and work is whether that community has reliable and affordable high-speed Internet access.
In Larimer County, at the northern end of the Front Range in Colorado, county officials are looking to secure between $5 million and $30 million in federal grant money to expand broadband access into underserved areas. Last month, the County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved up to a 10 percent match, or up to $3 million, if the county is awarded the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) grant.
The Fort Collins-based engineering and construction firm Ditesco has been hired by the county to help apply for the grant. Ditesco has a track record in the county for successfully supporting broadband projects, helping both Fort Collins, the seat of Larimer County, and Loveland with the engineering and managing of their networks.
During a presentation at the county board meeting in early August, Nathan Hoople, senior project manager for Ditesco told the board of commissioners there are 10 high priority areas where these funds could be used. This phase could potentially serve 7,300 premises, with about 3,000 to 4,000 households expected to sign up for county broadband.
The county’s plan is to fund the expansion of the existing municipal fiber networks in Loveland (Pulse Broadband) and Fort Collins (Fort Collins Conexon) into some of these high priority areas.
“Our strategy is to build from where we have existing service providers and start expanding out,” Mark Pfaffinger, Larimer County Chief Information Officer said at the meeting. “Our goal is not just to stop here, but to fill in all the other areas that are currently identified as areas of need.”
We’ve been reporting on the push for broadband expansion in Larimer County since 2017 when the county was awarded with a $82,000 grant from the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Broadband Program to conduct a feasibility study.
We are saddened to learn that two quiet champions of broadband have passed away — one recently and one about a year ago, although we only recently learned of his passing. Drew Davis of Larimer County, Colorado, and Larry Gates from Chanute, Kansas, performed the heavy lifting behind the scenes to help move their communities forward with essential investments. Both men and their quiet determination will be missed in their communities and by us.
Drew Davis and Discovering Larimer County
We spoke with Drew last summer when he came on the Community Broadband Bits podcast for episode 311. As Program Manager for Larimer Broadband, he and Director of Economic and Workforce Development Jacob Castillo and CIO Mark Pfaffinger joined discussed results of the county’s feasibility study survey. Drew was instrumental in developing the county plan as they find a way to bring better connectivity to people in Larimer County.
Drew was always helpful whenever we needed information about what was happening in the Colorado broadband world. He was a leader and strived to help others, including in the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department and Search and Rescue.
We know that folks in Colorado are also grieving his potential as well as the loss of his presence. Colin Garfield, who was one of the leaders of the municipal broadband effort in Fort Collins writes:
"Drew was a trusted adviser, a formidable ally to our efforts, and a local visionary who will be dearly missed. His contributions and leadership for rural broadband and policy flashed local brilliance. As northern Colorado becomes a stronghold for local connectivity, Drew's contributions, vision, and compelling arguments will not be forgotten. I'm grateful for the many enlightening, humorous, and blunt conversations we had over the past three years - I'm lucky to have even had the opportunity to cross paths with him."
Larry Laid the Foundation
In the wake of the FCC’s 2017 decision to repeal federal network neutrality protections, more communities than ever are considering their role in local connectivity. As it turns out, their citizens are thinking about it, too. In the case of Larimer County, Colorado, almost half of respondents to their recent survey replied that they want their county government to play a part in rural broadband.
Surprising/Not Surprising Results
We spoke with Drew Davis, Jacob Castillo, and Mark Pfaffinger in June to get an idea of some of the results of the survey and hear more about the county’s plans. You can listen to episode 311 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to hear the conversation. Approximately 32 percent of those who were sent the survey responded, which is a higher than average response rate and shows that people in Larimer County feel strongly about the issue and want their opinions heard.
At a July County Commission meeting, Davis presented detailed survey findings. Results reflected that 49 percent of respondents want the county to play an active part in broadband deployment:
- 33 percent of respondents want the county to offer services directly to the public; and
- 16 percent want the county to deploy the infrastructure and lease it to private sector ISPs
Only 11 percent want the county to leave efforts entirely to the private sector, while 18 percent replied that they believe the county should try to encourage private sector providers to build a fiber optic network in Larimer County. Another 20 percent had no opinion.
Larimer County, Colorado, Interpreting Early Feasibility Results - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 311
Late last year, Larimer County, Colorado, commissioned a broadband feasibility study to examine the possible solutions toward better connectivity across its more than 2,600 square miles. This week, three guests from Larimer County are here to discuss the community’s plan as it’s taking shape, Broadband Program Manager Drew Davis, Director of Economic and Workforce Development Jacob Castillo, and CIO Mark Pfaffinger. The interview was one of several Christopher conducted while at the Mountain Connect conference in Vail.
Drew, Jacob, and Mark discuss the results they’ve recently received from phase one of the feasibility study, the residential survey. They didn’t enter into the study with any preconceived notions, but the people of Larimer County still found a way to surprised county officials. In addition to confirming their belief that locals are an entrepreneurial sort, Drew, Jacob, and Mark were surprised at the wide range of people who expressed a desire for high-quality connectivity and the different ways they want to use broadband. Approximately 32 percent of residents responded to the survey, which was more than twice the expected rate; clearly, this is an important issue to locals.
Christopher, Drew, Jacob, and Mark also ponder the role of the county in bringing better Internet access to both residents and businesses. They intend to explore the many options available to them and continue the spirit of interdepartmental collaboration that has served them well so far. Larimer County leaders have included a broadband component in their strategic plan because they see how better local connectivity has become a necessity for the kind of life people expect there.
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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.
Santa Clarita, California, and Larimer County, Colorado, are the next communities considering connetivity options; both are ready to begin broadband feasibility studies.
Exploring Options in Santa Clarita
Santa Clarita, California, is located within Los Angeles County just 45 minutes north of the city of Los Angeles. The city is the third-largest in the county, with a population of 213,000 residents covering 62 square miles. The city already uses a fiber network for public safety and economic development, but want to investigate how to take their investment to the next level.
According to the city’s September 2017 press release, Santa Clarita has contracted with a consulting firm to conduct their broadband feasibility study. First, they will evaluate the effectiveness of existing broadband infrastructure for businesses and community anchor institutions (CAIs). Second, they will survey community representatives, institutions, and businesses to understand their specific broadband needs, identify challenges, and propose solutions to improve access.
In 2016, the city signed a dark fiber lease agreement with a Southern Californian telecommunications provider. The ten-year contract allowed the company to provide services via publicly owned fiber optic cable originally installed for traffic controls. The intent of the agreement is to improve high-speed Internet access for local businesses.
As the press release by the City of Santa Clarita suggests, the city is looking to further expand broadband services for residents and businesses, and to enhance its own municipal efficiencies.
Larimer County After The SB 152 Opt Out
Larimer County, Colorado, is located two hours north of Denver and is the the sixth largest county in the state by population. Most of the more than 300,000 residents live in the county's more densely populated communities of Fort Collins, Loveland, and Windsor.
We didn't need a crystal ball, magic potion, or ESP to predict that local Colorado voters would enthusiastically reclaim telecommunications authority yesterday. Twenty-six more local governments put the issue on the ballot and citizens fervently replied, “YES! YES, WE DO!”
Colorado local communities that want to take action to improve their local connectivity are hogtied by SB 152, the state law passed in 2005. Unless they hold a referendum and ask voters if they wish to reclaim the right to do so, the law prevents local governments from providing service or partnering with the private sector. Since the big incumbents that pushed the law through aren't providing necessary connectivity, their only choice is to opt out and work with new partners or move forward on their own.
This year’s results include seven counties and 19 municipalities. Many of those communities simply don't want lobbyists in Denver dictating whether they can move ahead in the digital economy. Over the past few years, the momentum has grown and, as places like Longmont, Rio Blanco County, and Centennial prove that local authority can improve local connectivity, more local governments have put the issue on the ballot.
The Big “Yes” In 95