Broadband is a term used to describe a wide range of different types of internet services that provide speeds significantly faster than those available through “dial-up”. The Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan now defines broadband service as providing a minimum of 25 mbps download speeds and 3 megabit upload speeds.
The City of Fort Collins, local education institutions, data oriented businesses, and community leaders recognize the increasing importance of broadband services to the community. The purpose of the Broadband Strategic Plan is to better understand the community’s current and future expectations regarding both residential and business broadband services and to then define a strategy for how those expectations can best be met.
Broadband is the local connection that enables homes and businesses to get to the Internet. In most cases, these connections use copper wires from a local cable or DSL modem; however, next generation high-speed broadband uses fiber-optic cables to connect to the Internet. Fiber-optic broadband can carry much more data and faster so it allows users have greater access to the Internet.
Since early 2015, several service providers have announced plans to upgrade their broadband services to make residential next generation high-speed broadband available in Fort Collins, but have not provided a timeline or information in regard to servicing all community members within the Fort Collins Growth Management Area.
Internet applications are using more and more broadband capacity every day as more information, education and entertainment content is enabled online. Citizens of Fort Collins should have access to everything the Internet has to offer, without being restricted by their local broadband services. It will support citizens’ needs to run their local businesses, ensure their children have the best opportunities to learn through technology and access the wealth of information and entertainment options that the Internet provides.
Studies on broadband show an important correlation with local economic vitality by improving the performance and cost effectiveness of business services, providing better support for the emerging “creative class,” supporting school technology programs, allowing those that can work from anywhere more options, and generally enhancing the community as a center of innovation. Access to next generation high-speed broadband increases development opportunities, allows greater access to training and job searches and promotes more adoption of Internet services by the community.
At this point, the City has no immediate plans to become a provider of Internet, television or other services. However, we will be evaluating all possible options to ensure our citizens receive the services they need. We will be evaluating a range of feasible options that make the most sense for our community and are economically viable. A voter-approved exemption allows the City to move forward with a wide range of options but doesn’t commit the City to any one course of action.
The exemption from SB-152 will allow the City to consider numerous options for being involved in broadband services. Options include leasing fiber to private entities, creating a public-private partnership to provide services, or directly providing services. The exemption does not mandate that the City take any of these actions but it does allow for the opportunity.
Throughout 2016, the City will be conducting feasibility and market studies and will be engaging the public to determine what role, if any, they would like to see the City play in providing broadband.
Citizens voted in support of SB152 in 2015. This ballot measure was the first step in allowing the City to pursue ensuring broadband access community-wide.
This measure adds telecommunication services to the City’s Utility Charter. Anytime there is a change to a City charter it is legally required to go to the voters. Council would also like voter’s “OK” before borrowing such a large amount of money.
If the ballot measure were to pass Council would be able to pursue the Retail option. They would also have the option of a public private partnership. Adding this language to the Charter would also provide the City the ability to acquire telecom infrastructure if needed in the future.
As currently envisioned, the broadband service would be provided through the City’s Light & Power utility. To fund the network construction, the City would issue Light & Power revenue bonds, which would be repaid by the network’s users. These bonds would be backed by the revenues and rate payers of the Light & Power Utility. All business startups incur risk and not all risks can be mitigated. Risks associated with the municipal retail business plan include, but are not limited to: competition, startup, governance, technology and financial risk. If the City Retail FTTP network is successful, only households that subscribe for the service will pay for the network.
As modeled for this analysis, in the event insufficient revenue was generated by network subscribers, Light & Power rate payers would be responsible for covering any shortfall revenue necessary to cover debt service and operating expenditures. Staff also identified a worst case scenario (all of the debt is spent, the network fails and no revenue is realized from the network) to cover the $130 of debt to build the City Retail FTTP network. In the worst case scenario, a monthly fee estimated at $17 per month would be charged to each Light & Power account. The $17 per month is equivalent to $2,420 per premise over the life of the debt but would be reduced the later in time such a worst case scenario occurred.
It is important to note that the proposed Charter language authorizes the Council to make a range of decisions about how to structure the broadband service, and to make changes over time to the structure, funding and operation of the broadband service. If Council were to decide to use other than utility revenues to fund the broadband service, additional voter approvals may be required.
Service depends on a variety of factors. Once construction begins on a network, whether by the City or a private partner, full buildout is expected to take three to five years.
Next generation high-speed broadband is about more than downloading movies and streaming Netflix shows. A fiber network provides the city with a competitive advantage when it comes to offering businesses and entrepreneurs a platform to work on that won’t “crash” or “slow down.” While current internet needs may be met for some, the internet of tomorrow, often called the “internet of things,” will need more speed and reliability for uses that have yet to be invented.
Debt requirements will be in the range of $130M-$150M depending on the final architecture and subscriber adoption. Expenses funded from the debt include: engineering and design, network construction, network electronics, bond issuance fees, capitalized interest, facilities and equipment and working capital. The largest cost component of the capital requirement will be the network construction, currently estimated at more than $80M. Details are on page 31 of the Broadband Business Plan. The business plan calls for additional staffing for this project as outlined on page 39 of the Broadband Business Plan.
At this time video is not part of broadband business plan, however no final decision has been made at this point. The City is still evaluating all of its options.
Two reasons, 1) the City believes it is important to be a connected city with high-speed internet available to all residents. A connected city provides opportunities for all and maintains the city’s competitiveness attracting talented citizens and businesses into our community. 2) In conversations with the incumbents, they have provided no clear timeline of when they would provide this service to our community. As a result in order to future-proof Fort Collins and provide next generation high-speed broadband to the community the City is looking into providing this service.
Under the current business plan broadband would extend throughout the current City limits and will extend into the GMA when those areas are annexed. Current capital spending estimates are for the City limits only.
As a current Utility provider, the City takes privacy very seriously and this commitment would be practiced with broadband. Private, or personal information, includes names, addresses, phone number, emails as well as browsing and internet history and usage, email and phone records, and other generated electronic data. The City will not collect any of this information beyond what is required to provide service.
The City has no need, desire, or intent to collect or sell resident information including browser history. Ensuring customer privacy is a City priority and is critical to maintaining customer confidence. Privacy is also addressed on pages 48-49 of the Broadband Business Plan.
Net Neutrality is the principle where services are not blocked, slowed down, sped up, or otherwise manipulated based on who is accessing the internet or from where. The City of Fort Collins is committed to the principles of Net Neutrality. The City Broadband Plan does not call for any restrictions on access including uploads, downloads, delivery methods or providers (email, Skype, Netflix, etc.) For more detail on Net Neutrality see page 48 of the Broadband Business Plan.
Developing security strategies that can protect all parts of a complicated network is one of the most important tasks related to network design.
The City will work with third parties and vendors to achieve a reliable and secure network. The design philosophy is to block everything and then allow access as warranted. The system will be monitored to ensure proper operation and to verify the functioning of security features. This includes monitoring access, insuring all security patches are applied, verifying required services are configured securely and no passwords are left set to the factory defaults. All failed login attempts and ACL violations will be alerted.
The City’s security priorities will also focus on physical security of network equipment (which is likely the biggest risk point.) For greater detail on security please see pages 49-50 of the Broadband Business Plan.