Ballot Issue 2B proposes city-provided high-speed broadband

Sady Swanson

Equal access to high-speed Internet, provided by the City of Fort Collins, could become a reality if Ballot Issue 2B is passed by the voters Nov. 3.

Allowing the City of Fort Collins to look into cheaper and faster broadband connectivity options is what Ballot Issue 2B is all about. Right now, the city does not have the ability to interfere with broadband services to its residents because of Senate Bill 152, which was passed in 2005.

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Dean of Libraries and Vice President of Information Technology Patrick Burns said if the citizens approve it, the city could devote resources to telecommunications services. This ballot issue is operating within the realm of Senate Bill 152.

Ballot Issue 2B would allow the city to become involved in broadband in Fort Collins. If passed, the city will begin looking into ways to improve broadband in the city.

“The city didn’t want to invest a lot of money at possibilities where they might be involved without having the permission to do that,” Burns said.

Ballot Issue 2B would let the city explore a few options: running broadband out of the city similar to how electricity is distributed, partnering with a private company and still having the city partially involved or outsourcing broadband distribution to a private provider.

“Because it’s a ballot initiative … the city people and I have to go silent in terms of representing our institutions for 90 days before the ballot initiative,” Burns said. “So, what I’m telling you now, I’m telling you as a private citizen, but with 30 years of experience engaged in advanced networking.”

Burns said he did Internet speed tests at home and while at CSU. At home, he said his download speed was 16 megabits per second and uploading at less than one megabit per second. At CSU, those numbers were 500 megabits per second, or half a gigabit, downloading and 250 megabits per second uploading respectively.

“We’re in the position of not having the ability to buy what I consider to be adequate Internet access at home,” Burns said. “The best Internet access you buy at home is worse than the worst Internet access you buy at CSU.”

The cable companies do not seem to be able to deliver the Internet capacity Fort Collins residents need — the city is lacking connectivity with citizenry and to small businesses, Burns said.

“In general, I think whenever you have more choices, everything gets better,” Citizen’s Broadband Committee chair Tim Tillson said.

The United States is ranked 28th in the world for broadband infrastructure, Burns said. Google took over broadband services in Kansas City, Missouri, and is now providing Internet service to many different cities in the United States.

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Longmont shifted their internet service as well, allowing the city to run broadband distribution since 2014. Scott Rochat, Longmont Power and Communications spokesperson, said they hope to finish putting in the infrastructure and be able to offer the entire city Internet by 2016.

“The demand was even higher than we ever dreamed it would be,” Rochat said.

Their original plan was to do one part of the city at a time, but when 40-45 percent of the potential customers in the first area signed up for the service, they knew they had to speed up construction.

Residents that sign up for the service within three months of it being offered in their neighborhood get one gigabit per second of upload and download speed for $50 (a 50 percent discount), and that price follows them as long as they stay in Longmont.

In order to fund the initial construction, the City of Longmont issued a bond of $40.3 million. Rochat said the bond should be paid off completely by revenue from the service. Bond payments are currently being made.

“We are not funded by any tax dollars,” Rochat said.

Rochat said there was a group opposing their attempt to get the city involved in broadband. He said it took the city two tries to get something passed which would allow them to get involved with broadband service.

Though Fort Collins has not seen any organized opposition, there have been arguments that government should not get involved in providing Internet.

“One criticism is that government can’t do anything better than the private sector,” Burns said. “My counter to this is, look at the City of Fort Collins electrical distributions. It provides electrical distribution that is better and less expensive than the private sector can do it.”

Tillson said, like electricity, Internet should be a utility.

“There’s no real downside to this ballot issue,” Tillson said. “There’s really no downside to having more choice.”

The last day to vote in this year’s election is Nov. 3.

Collegian Breaking News Editor Sady Swanson can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @sadyswan.