Fort Collins eyes starting own speedy ‘Net service

FORT COLLINS – The city of Fort Collins, bombarded with complaints about slow Internet speeds, will seek funding this year to study whether it can provide its own, super-fast municipal broadband service.

For all its storied technology success stories, the city has Internet-service shortcomings. City Manager Darin Atteberry said solutions to the problem could include building a fiber-optic network or contracting with an Internet service provider to improve bandwidth, speeds, access and connectivity.

In Colorado, average landline Internet download speeds total just 7 megabits per second, only slightly higher than the U.S. average, according to Internet Access Local, a company that tracks Internet Statistics. Less than 80 percent of Coloradans have an Internet connection.

This fall, Atteberry will propose hiring a consultant, at an as yet undetermined cost, to help the city complete a thorough analysis of telecommunications options, including information on how other cities have remedied their Internet problems. The Fort Collins City Council would consider including the initiative in its fiscal 2015 budget.

“What I’m excited about is a genuine look, without any predetermined outcomes other than to ensure Fort Collins’ competiveness … and to look out for long-term needs,” Atteberry said. “A small investment of this nature could potentially have huge implications for the future of Fort Collins.”

Despite its high-tech reputation with computer electronics greats such as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), Avago Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: AVGO) and LSI Corp. (Nasdaq: LSI), the city has gaps in Internet service. Atteberry has heard complaints about lack of bandwidth from everyone from businesses to educators, and he hopes the initiative will spur conversation on how to improve Internet service.

Fort Collins isn’t the first city in Northern Colorado to look at municipal Internet service. The city of Longmont has led the charge in the region, recently embarking on its own initiative to fortify its fiber-optic network with funding from voter-approved issuance of $45.3 million in revenue bonds.

By 2017, Longmont believes it can offer residents and businesses speeds of 1 gigabit per second for about $50 per month through its municipal Internet service, said Tom Roiniotis, director of Longmont Power and Communications. The city is designing and engineering the network and hopes to begin construction this fall.

“We’re going to be able to offer gigabits of speed, speeds that are much greater than any of the incumbent providers are capable of providing now,” he said.

He said Longmont will deploy the same kind of fiber-optic network installed by Google in Kansas City, Mo., where the Internet giant has provided speeds of 1 gigabit per second.

Fort Collins gets its Internet from a variety of sources, including telecommunications companies.

Efforts to establish municipal Internet service have floundered in many cities, including in Colorado. Glenwood Springs succeeded in its bid as the first city in Colorado to offer Internet service directly to businesses in 2002, but not without facing challenges.

The city initially had asked telecommunications companies whether they planned to improve service.

“The answer was ‘No,'” Glenwood Springs City Manager Jeff Hecksel said. “Glenwood took it upon itself to do it, only to find out that the competitors, when they saw the city was actually serious, went ahead and starting making improvements to their own systems.”

The service cost about $3 million, a relatively inexpensive total because Glenwood Springs already had some of the electrical infrastructure in place.

Internet service providers offer an assortment of options in Fort Collins, but they may not serve every business or residential customer in every place.

Vista Solutions, an information technology engineering firm in Fort Collins that traditionally has focused on helping clients protect and manage data, has set up wireless antenna arrays in the Prospect Park East Business Park. Vista Solutions now provides services to 10 other businesses that have few options for inexpensive Internet service.

“We started doing this wireless Internet connection here in the business park because the options are so limited,” Vista Solutions chief operating officer Tim Cordodor said.

The idea to look into improving Fort Collins’ Internet service comes from the city’s Futures Committee, whose members include city councilmen Gerry Horak, Gino Campana and Wade Troxell.

Horak said he supported the broadband study proposal. Employees who work from home, for example, have difficulty transferring large files to Fort Collins business offices. Companies also have reported problems transferring files to other companies.

“If we want to be a successful community that’s growing lots of local businesses and businesses that are using the Internet, to me it’s something that most communities, but especially a university community, has to have,” he said.

Atteberry said better Internet would help Fort Collins maintain its economic competitive edge.

“Telecommunications are a big part of future competitiveness of communities,” he said. “That’s an issue of keeping your community vibrant and dynamic.”

Steve Lynn can be reached at 970-232-3147 or slynn@ncbr.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevelynnncbr.

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