Longmont gets ready for ultrafast broadband

Sixteen years ago, the city of Longmont began to bring to life its vision of a completely connected city using state-of-the-art fiber-optic technology. At that time, Platte River Power Authority and Longmont Power & Communications, or LPC, installed an 18-mile fiber-optic loop for electrical substation management and other communications functions.

Platte River Power Authority and LPC installed this infrastructure with the future in mind. Additional capacity, in the form of excess fiber-optic strands, was included at very little added cost to ensure the infrastructure could be used as a backbone for a robust citywide network.

In the last decade and a half, Longmont has made good use of this asset. City facilities are connected to the infrastructure and outside organizations, including the St. Vrain Valley School District and Longmont United Hospital, utilize the system.

Unfortunately, the city struggled to achieve the ultimate vision of a citywide, high-speed fiber-optics network. In 1999, LPC signed a contract with Adesta Communications, who agreed to expand the system’s reach to Longmont’s homes and businesses.

Regrettably, early on in the project the telecom and dot.com bubble burst and the economy declined. Adesta declared bankruptcy, and the city was unable to find another private company partner to complete the build-out.

In 2005, Colorado Senate Bill 152 was passed, restricting the city’s right to provide the community retail access to the network, either on its own or in partnership with a private company. That right was re-established by a vote of Longmont’s citizens in late 2011.

The following year, work began on a feasibility study examining the costs, benefits and risks for Longmont to provide fiber optic based broadband services to residents and businesses to fill the service voids that exist in the community.

On May 14 the feasibility study, developed with industry consultants, was presented to Longmont’s city council who directed staff to move forward with a citywide build and to bring back funding options. If funded, the deployment will take approximately three years and will move Longmont’s original vision forward: a connected city with access to ultra high speeds that are available at low cost to all residents and businesses.

The value of this type of network was envisioned for Longmont nearly two decades ago, but it is even more important today for economic development, education and lifestyle.

Economic Development: As the use of digital communications increases, Longmont’s businesses are required to send and receive large amounts of information in less time and to easily communicate with others regardless of location. Broadband connections with faster upload and download speeds, at lower cost, enable businesses to work more efficiently. This advantage makes them more competitive locally, regionally, and globally.

Many of the nearly 89 communities nationwide who own and operate their own networks have already experienced economic development boosts. In those communities, existing businesses are expanding, companies are relocating there, and new businesses are being created.

In Longmont, even though we are at a preliminary stage of build-out, businesses near the installed fiber ring have signed up for high-speed broadband service and are beginning to realize significant cost savings.

Education: High-speed, low-cost broadband enables students to have broader and more flexible access to information and makes classroom lessons more customized, interactive, and engaging. When students are able to access these services at home, they can work at the same level as they have during the school day. In addition, enhanced broadband services can provide teachers with better access to online curriculum development tools and resources showing the best practices of their peers.

Lifestyle: Longmont citizens are tech-savvy and use an increasing number of devices at home that place continually greater demands on broadband connectivity. Growth in home-based businesses, telecommuting, online gaming and entertainment downloads through over-the-top systems each contribute to this use.

This trend will continue to grow in the future and it is important that residents have access to the bandwidth they need at prices they can afford.

These are just a few reasons why it’s important for Longmont to realize its vision of being a connected city. If the city moves forward and deploys this network, it will join a number of elite communities around the country where citizens can work, learn, and live using the latest technologies available.

Dennis Coombs is the mayor of Longmont. He can be reached at 303-651-8602 or dennis.coombs@ci.longmont.co.us.

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