Boulder broadband: imperative for prosperous future

BOULDER — People working side-by-side, though they are thousands of miles apart. Conducting trusted financial transactions without traditional intermediaries. Downloading any movie you ever wanted to watch, whenever you want to watch it.

That’s today’s internet-based world, and new capabilities will emerge to transform entire industries — indeed our daily lives. So, even though I’ve written before about community broadband, I’m addressing it again because the City of Boulder’s momentum toward establishing such a system seems to be waning. Witness the recent City Council discussion on broadband that generated this concerning headline, “Boulder City Council may not have appetite for broadband ballot measure in 2018.”

That’s a big mistake! A delay in moving our broadband infrastructure investment forward threatens Boulder’s status as an innovation leader. Already, other Front Range communities, like Longmont and Fort Collins, are deploying ubiquitous broadband as part of a competitive drive to better serve their innovative business and research institutions. Further, through inaction, we will exacerbate the digital divide that is placing certain populations, including hundreds of households in Boulder with no internet service, at a significant disadvantage in our increasingly digitized world. 

In the face of this imperative for action, we must also be mindful of some basic principles that will secure the best outcome for our community as we address our broadband deficiencies:

Focus on Standards and Flexibility — Although we don’t know exactly what the world will be like in five or 10 years, undoubtedly we’ll see new technologies that tackle important issues, such as climate change, the spread of deadly diseases, and helping businesses thrive and innovate. We’ll also see new approaches to human and business interaction, like blockchain technologies, autonomous transportation solutions and augmented/virtual reality. Such breakthroughs, and ones we can’t yet imagine, depend on robust, adaptable and reliable connectivity that can accommodate increasing demands. Just imagine, for example trying to download your favorite YouTube video on the 56 kilobit dial-up service you had not so very long ago.

We need to invest in a broadband network that provides a minimum of 1 gigabit speeds to meet current needs, with the potential to accommodate higher speeds at little incremental cost, when we’re ready for it. Along with other carefully crafted standards, such as support reliability, mobility, security, and accessibility, this is the best way to “future-proof” community broadband. At the same time, we must pursue a flexible and cost-efficient approach to our broadband infrastructure investment, with strong ties to the dynamic, inventive, competitive nature of our broadband marketplace, that can change with evolving requirements.

Ensure Fair Access and Inclusivity — Since the FCC has ruled against the concept of “net neutrality,” the debate rages as to how to treat the internet. At a basic level, community-wide broadband has become a sine qua non of inclusivity and fairness. President Obama supported treating the internet as a utility to keep it “free and open.” The United Nations has declared internet access to be a “human right.” Canada has declared “high-speed” internet essential for quality of life. And the UK has called internet access a “legal right,” similar to water and power.

Reacting to the FCC decision, several states have addressed what they see as serious harm to consumers, innovation, and small businesses through unequal treatment of content. It is critical that Boulder’s broadband system similarly assure fair access by developers, content providers and customers to high-speed internet. That is essential to securing our long-term innovation leadership and economic vitality. That also is how, through our focus on standards regardless of the final delivery model, we can be sure Boulder’s broadband system achieves our goals of open and ubiquitous access that helps bridge the digital divide.

Recognize Cross-Sector Impacts — We need to recognize the potential impacts of new market technologies and uses. According to recent reporting, for example, computers used for mining Bitcoin are consuming a significant percentage of the world’s total energy usage — more than that of many countries. Experts are now speculating whether increased Bitcoin mining activity can be offset by growth in renewable energy resources. We can only wonder what other, perhaps unforeseen, impacts of increasing demands for connectivity may await. Regardless, we need to be on guard for them and be prepared to respond with thoughtful policies that balance the opportunities and risks.

To conclude, the Boulder Chamber urges the City of Boulder to forge ahead in its implementation of a flexible, accessible, and responsive broadband network — securing our leadership as a center for innovation and meeting our commitment to community inclusivity.

John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at (303) 442-1044, ext 110 or john.tayer@boulderchamber.com.

BOULDER — People working side-by-side, though they are thousands of miles apart. Conducting trusted financial transactions without traditional intermediaries. Downloading any movie you ever wanted to watch, whenever you want to watch it.

That’s today’s internet-based world, and new capabilities will emerge to transform entire industries — indeed our daily lives. So, even though I’ve written before about community broadband, I’m addressing it again because the City of Boulder’s momentum toward establishing such a system seems to be waning. Witness the recent City Council discussion on broadband that generated this concerning headline, “Boulder City Council may not have appetite for broadband ballot measure in 2018.”

That’s a big mistake! A delay in moving our broadband infrastructure investment forward threatens Boulder’s status as an innovation leader. Already, other Front Range communities, like Longmont and Fort Collins, are deploying ubiquitous broadband as part of a competitive drive to better serve their innovative business and research institutions. Further, through inaction, we will exacerbate the digital divide that is placing certain populations, including hundreds of households in Boulder with no internet service, at a significant disadvantage in our increasingly digitized world. 

In the face of this imperative for action, we must also be mindful of some basic principles that will secure the best outcome for our community as we address our broadband deficiencies:

Focus on Standards and Flexibility — Although we don’t know exactly what the world will be like in five or 10 years, undoubtedly we’ll…