Superior urges slow approach to pursuit of faster, cheaper broadband
A future Superior, one connected by a plexus of sophisticated, townwide fiber that provides a growing number of homes and businesses faster internet at prices competing with the likes of Comcast, could be realized sooner than expected. It might not come as soon as some would like; a ballot measure funding the rollout of community broadband infrastructure could appear in front of Superior voters in 2018 at the earliest, trustees signaled at a board retreat Friday. Despite deciding against rushing such a measure onto this year’s ballot in favor of a slower, more circumspect approach,taking that approach late next year would still be an ambitious pursuit.
It would come just two years after voters said “yes” to opt out of Senate Bill 152 (the law passed in 2005 restricting local governments from using taxpayer dollars to build expensive broadband networks), allowing officials to explore how a high-speed fiber optic network throughout the 4-square-mile town could function. It would take roughly one to two years before such a network could be up and running in a town the size of Superior, according to Uptown Services, LLC, an Arizona-based consulting firm.
It’s an increasingly popular choice among Colorado cities — at least 65 to date have opted out of the statute via voter-approved ballot measures, according to Community Broadband Networks — as they eschew the confines of traditional, costly internet options. A consultant’s report suggests that demand for broadband by Superior citizens is high; roughly 96 percent of residents consider the availability of low-cost, high-speed internet as “somewhat or very important to the future local economy.”
Such fervor is tapered back somewhat among its town leaders, however, who worry that lofty expectations by residents often spur municipalities into rushed promises — often with disastrous results. Presented with two potential ballot options — an increase on annual sales tax or a mill levy both equaling approximately £840,000 to fund network infrastructure — trustees are primed to pump the brakes amid a long list of unanswered questions only three months away from this year’s election. “The obligation for this board regarding this issue,” Trustee Sandy Pennington said Friday, “(is that) whatever we may put on a ballot, if approved, has to be pretty dang bullet-proof.
“I think that what we have here is a draft with merit,” she added, “but I don’t love it. We have to make sure that what we put on the ballot is not going to be a horrible financial decision for this town.” The most notable question, perhaps, is which model of community broadband would function best: municipally-owned, a hybrid of public and private, or private altogether?
Another question surrounds the plans of Louisville, which just approved an ordinance aimed at sending at an option to opt out of SB 152 to this year’s ballot, and who Superior could very well partner with, in a joint effort to provide broadband to both communities. Before Louisville opts out of its current restrictions, however, the city’s hands are tied from being able to discuss future plans, according to officials, and such a lopsided timeline between partnering communities presents a litany of risks. “The question is why are we forcing this on a ballot in 2017,” Superior Trustee Sandie Hammerly asked Friday. “I’m not sure whether sales tax or mills is the right thing to do.
I’d like to know what happens with Louisville. Is wireless something we can even consider in a city of four-square-miles? “Saying that we are going to go forward with in-ground fiber is a rush,” she added. “(We shouldn’t) do it in 2017, but wait until 2018 and answer some of these questions.
I don’t go out and buy a car because it’s the car I looked at most recently. I look at my various options; right now I have one option on the table.” However Superior approaches a community-wide broadband network, a model lies in Longmont’s successful efforts.
The model of Longmont, consistently credited as having one of the fastest internet speeds in the nation, will most likely inform how surrounding governments approach the issue for years to come. In 2014, the city rounded out a two-decades-long journey to connect customers to NextLight, its city-operated “fiber-to-the-home” service. Today, almost 350 miles of fiber serves residents within city limits.
The future of connectivity lies with fiber, according to NextLight spokesman Scott Rochat, who says the system is infinitely scalable; one capable of supporting connectivity far into the future, even as technology transforms. “People still haven’t found the limits of what fiber optics can do yet,” he said. “If you want to scale it up, it’s just a matter of changing the electronics up at either end of the fiber you already have in the ground.” For NextLight customers, Rochat said, prices for regular one gig connections are around £100 a month; a price typically cheaper than most competitors, and one that reflects lightning-quick connectability.
“Fiber connection means consistency and reliability and dependability,” Rochat said, “something that we have emphasized in our electric services for decades. “When you turn on your hall lights in your house, your television doesn’t immediately turn off. That’s because you have a system in place that’s well designed; we believe broadband should be the same way.”