The city of Fort Collins is considering whether to establish its own high-speed broadband internet service.(Photo: jmiks, Getty Images)
Fort Collins’ path toward providing high-speed internet service as a city utility has had some interesting twists and turns as of late. City officials recently learned that Axia, a company it had talked to at length about being a partner in building a fiber optic network covering the city and its growth management area, was no longer interested in a partnership. A similar deal the Canadian company was working on with the city of Bloomington, Indiana, fell through April 20.
Apparently, Axia’s parent company, the equity investment firm Partners Group, wasn’t keen about investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the U.S. market given risks such as the strength of established cable and telecommunications companies, according to a city memo. The “no” from Partners Group surprised the city and Axia. Another surprise came in the form a piece of draft legislation that showed up at the Colorado General Assembly mid-April. The proposed bill would restrict the ability of municipalities with light and power utilities, such as Fort Collins, to establish and operate broadband utilities.
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Its provisions include prohibiting the use of funds from other utilities to help finance a broadband utility. It also called for making a broadband utility’s commercial and financial information subject to the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA. That would put the utility at a significant competitive disadvantage. The bill was sponsored by Comcast, according to a city memo. It’s not expected to be introduced in the Legislature this late into its session, but municipalities know it’s out there.
Perhaps it’s a warning shot from existing internet providers that they will not easily surrender their pieces of the market pie to a governmental entity. One of the attractions of a municipal broadband service is that consumers would have more choice, including no longer having to deal with large telecommunications companies that do not enjoy the best reputations for service. So, what’s next for Fort Collins?
The City Council on Tuesday is scheduled to have a work session during which members will be updated on the city’s push to establish broadband services. The question remains whether the city should pursue a third-party partnership, build and operate its own system at an estimated cost of $125 million to $140 million, or let go of the idea and let the market take care of providing internet service to residences and businesses.
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If the city chooses to pursue a new utility, voters would have to approve its establishment. City officials are targeting November for the election. If that were to happen, ballot language would have to be crafted over the summer. And that would require additional public outreach to flesh out a proposal voters would support.
It also might include hiring a couple of full-time staff members or consultants with expertise in broadband to help bring together a solid proposal. The goal behind all this work is to provide internet and other broadband services that are fast, reliable, reasonably priced, and customer friendly. Fort Collins residents have said they want that through various surveys.
Getting there is proving to be a long, complicated journey; and that’s before construction begins.
Stay tuned for more developments.
Kevin Duggan is a senior reporter and columnist.
Follow him at Coloradoan Kevin Duggan on Facebook or @coloradoan_dugg on Twitter.
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- ^ Comcast unveils new digs at Fort Collins HP campus (www.coloradoan.com)
- ^ Duggan: Visibility helped and hurt Fort Collins police chief (www.coloradoan.com)