Councilor urges caution in installing fiber internet
It’s not a matter of whether Grand Junction should get fiber internet, it’s how it should go about doing it, a Grand Junction city councilman told a group of high-tech entrepreneurs on Thursday night.
But the city needs to be very deliberate and cautious about not only the costs of installing such infrastructure, but also costs of operating that broadband once it’s installed, Councilor Rick Taggart told attendees at LAUNCH West CO’s event.
Taggart approached the group to clarify his position on bringing high-speed internet to the city, after he and other council members announced at a workshop last month that they wanted to rethink their strategy.
Taggart told the group that council started discussions with a company that had submitted a proposal to build out the fiber network.
“When we sat down to flesh out what they had proposed to us, they proceeded to renege on the major components of what they had presented to us,” he said. “They changed the landscape on a couple of critical issues and we said enough is enough.”
The city is currently in discussions with two or three other companies to form a private-public partnership, he said.
The plan also included having the city finance and own the network, and contracting with a company to provide the resources to operate the network. The estimated time frame was three years to build the infrastructure.
The city was modeling this partnership after one that has been successful in Westminster, Maryland. The community delivered service through a hybrid model, in which the financial risk was shared by the city and the company providing the broadband service.
In Westminster, the city looked for partners to deliver service and handle customer relationships, keeping the city out of the network operations, but having the city build, own and maintain the fiber.
Taggart said he has a few concerns that need to be resolved before moving forward, and cautioned against pitfalls from moving forward without enough information.
He’s not OK with the fact that the city hasn’t done a feasibility study to assess how many people and businesses would actually commit to paying for the service, and that from a business standpoint, it’s irresponsible to not evaluate the financial details of the project before proceeding.
He cited several municipalities that had debts and other troubles resulting from providing fiber.
Estimates Taggart cited indicate it would cost more than $60 million to install 386 miles of fiber within the city to build the network.
He also said that projections indicate that as much as 35 percent of the households and businesses would need to subscribe to break even on the operating costs, and that those subscriptions could cost $70 to $100 a month.
In a city election in 2015, 77 percent of voters approved allowing the government entity to explore broadband opportunities, overriding a state law that was passed in 2005, which prevented the state’s municipalities from creating their own broadband networks.
“That’s not a feasibility study,” said Taggart.
Taggart also expressed concern about the current providers in the area, and said Charter Communications already has 190 miles of fiber installed, and he is concerned about duplicating efforts.
Attendees urged Taggart to push for open access of the network, which would prevent one company from controlling the service for customers, and to have government install the infrastructure so companies can compete and grow.
“We don’t have to hand our infrastructure to a single utility company,” said Colter Lovette, president of 32Waves, which offers a high-speed internet called SkyFiber.
Lovette lobbied for providing an infrastructure for companies to serve customers, to create a marketplace for them to do business without shutting out competition.
Lovette recommended the city take a look at the community of Ammon, Idaho, which began a city-installed fiber infrastructure in June and allows residents to opt in for the service.
The city is currently looking for an area of about 300 homes with a high enough percentage of those who opt in to warrant the costs of installation in a neighborhood, according to its website.