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Planning is Good, but Pivoting is Better in Fort Collins, Colorado - Episode 588 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Chad Crager, Broadband Executive Director at City of Fort Collins, to talk about the rapidly maturing city-owned network they call Connexion. From a feasibility study in 2018 to the lion's share of construction completed today, Connexion's story illustrates the value of being nimble when expectations meet reality. When planned use of existing conduit was thwarted by frozen and root-blocked pathways, the city bored new routes. When that led to increased construction costs, the city adjusted its target take rate upwards and hired dedicated, community-minded staff eager to be responsive to subscribers and build a sense of goodwill. And when developers argued they only needed a single fiber to run wireless for new apartment complexes, the city convinced them to plan for more growth in the future.
Along the way, the municipal network has committed to doing its part in the fight for digital equity. This includes the establishment of a fund with 6 percent of network revenues going to support low-cost plans and literacy efforts, to partnering with Larimer County on extending the network outside city limits, and more.
This show is 38 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show: please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Colorado has long been home to some of the most innovative municipal broadband projects in the country. That trend has only accelerated with last year’s voter-approved elimination of municipal broadband restrictions, and it’s now being buoyed by a massive new wave of state grants that should further expand affordable broadband to long-neglected parts of the state.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recently announced the first of multiple broadband investments using stimulus funding from the U.S. Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF) program. The CPF is funded by $10 billion made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and is a key part of the state’s goal to bring affordable broadband to 99 percent of Colorado residents by 2027.
According to the Governor’s office, the state just authorized $113 million in CPF funds on 13 projects that will bring fiber service to nearly 19,000 homes and businesses across Colorado. State officials say the funding will be heavily focused on projects in the South and Southwest portion of the Centennial State, where connectivity needs are greatest.
The Colorado Broadband Office says it received 112 applications asking for more than $642 million in broadband funding across the state–five times greater than the allotted awards.
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.”
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.