City Council signaling split on broadband

Board to decide Wednesday on whether to pursue network

Stay tuned on whether the city of Grand Junction will invest in a fiber broadband network to bring affordable internet to residents and businesses.

The Grand Junction City Council during its Monday night workshop seemed split on whether to continue along a path to create a $70 million high-speed, fiber broadband network with Sifi/Nokia.

Councilors are expected to decide during their public meeting Wednesday night whether to advance to the second of three milestones with the company.

Taking the next step will offer the city more financial figures and detailed construction plans. If the city backs out Wednesday, it will pay $50,000 for work done so far by the company. If the city backs out after work from the second milestone is completed, it will pay a total of $200,000.

Some councilors said they want to facilitate a public-private agreement for reasonably priced internet for residents, but they are equally worried about putting those same residents at risk for having to pay back costs if the plan fails. Councilors are specifically concerned about whether enough residents will use one of the internet service providers that sign onto the network, especially if incumbent providers begin to offer more competitive pricing.

Councilor Barbara Traylor Smith said seeing the results of milestone 2 should flush out some answers she’s seeking. However, she noted that technology has changed quickly in the two years since the city started down the path of seeking to create a fiber broadband network.

“I’m getting mixed information,” she said. “It’s murky for me right now. When it’s foggy outside, I don’t go driving 90 mph down the road.”

Smith said local internet providers have increased services in the past years. Yet she also doesn’t want to continue to see Grand Junction falling behind in the competition to offer high-speed internet to residents and businesses, losing its status as an economic development driver.

“Where does that leave us 10 years from now?” she questioned if the city doesn’t move forward on a plan.

As Grand Junction searches for a broadband solution, Denver is moving forward on 5G wireless broadband service. According to 9News, Denver has been selected as one of 11 cities to pilot Verizon’s 5G network. Additionally, Google plans to bring wireless fiber offering speeds of up to 1-gigabit service to Larimer Place, a 168-unit condo building in Denver, according to The Denver Post.

As councilors wondered aloud whether the city should seek wireless broadband, Councilor Chris Kennedy said fiber broadband would have to be built anyway and those areas getting wireless broadband already have fiber broadband.

He contended that claims by incumbent internet service provider Charter Spectrum that residents could get 100-megabytes-per-second service in Grand Junction for $10 more than the cost of 60-megabytes-per-second service only applied in California and Texas, not here.

Kennedy also advocated for a partnership with SiFi/Nokia because businesses that receive 1-gigabit service in downtown pay monthly rates of $1,200 to $1,300.

“CenturyLink said you can call yourself a gigabit city, but that’s not true,” Kennedy said. “There’s no access to gigabit that’s affordable.”

Councilor Rick Taggart said he believed the business plan with SiFi/Nokia was “flawed,” and the city’s current reserves would not be able to handle defaults on payments over the 30-year loan.

Councilor Marty Chazen also said he thinks the idea is too risky.

“I would like to take a breather here… and go back (to the incumbents) and say, ‘OK what are you going to bring back to the table before we spend $70 million?’ ” he said. “If people really need bandwidth, maybe there’s a better way than spending $70 million.”


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