Colorado Town Offers 1 Gbps For $60 After Years Of Battling Comcast

from the build-it-and-they-will-come dept

A new community broadband network went live in Fort Collins, Colorado recently offering locals there gigabit fiber speeds for $60 a month with no caps, restrictions, or hidden fees. The network launch comes years after telecom giants like Comcast worked tirelessly to crush the effort. Voters approved the effort as part of a November 2017 ballot initiative, despite the telecom industry spending nearly $1 million on misleading ads to try and derail the effort. A study (pdf) by the Institute for Local Reliance estimated that actual competition in the town was likely to cost Comcast between $5.4 million and $22.8 million each year.

Unlike private operations, the Fort Collins Connexion network pledges to adhere to net neutrality. The folks behind the network told Ars Technica the goal is to offer faster broadband to the lion’s share of the city within the next few years:

“The initial number of homes we’re targeting this week is 20-30. We will notify new homes weekly, slowly ramping up in volume,” Connexion spokesperson Erin Shanley told Ars. While Connexion’s fiber lines currently pass just a small percentage of the city’s homes and businesses, Shanley said the city’s plan is to build out to the city limits within two or three years.

“Ideally we will capture more than 50% of the market share, similar to Longmont,” another Colorado city that built its own network, Shanley said. Beta testers at seven homes are already using the Fort Collins service, and the plan is to start notifying potential customers about service availability today.

The telecom sector simply loves trying to insist that community-run broadband is an inevitable taxpayer boondoggle. But such efforts are just like any other proposal and depend greatly on the quality of the business plan. And the industry likes to ignore the fact that such efforts would not be happening in the first place if American consumers weren’t outraged by the high prices, slow speeds, and terrible customer service the industry is known for. All symptoms of the limited competition industry apologists are usually very quick to pretend aren’t real problems (because when quarterly returns are all that matter to you, they aren’t).

For years we’ve noted how large ISPs like Comcast quite literally write and buy protectionist state laws preventing towns and cities from building their own broadband networks (or striking public/private partnerships). These ISPs don’t want to spend money to improve or expand service into lower ROI areas, but they don’t want towns and cities to either — since many of these networks operate on an open access model encouraging a little something known as competition. As such it’s much cheaper to buy a state law and a lawmaker who’ll support it — than to actually try and give a damn.

And while roughly nineteen states have passed such laws, Colorado’s SB 152, co-crafted by Comcast and Centurylink in 2005, was notably unique in that it let local towns and cities hold local referendums on whether they’d like to ignore it. And over the last few years, an overwhelming number of Colorado towns and cities have voted to do so, preferring to decide local infrastructure issues for themselves instead of having lobbyists for Comcast dictate what they can or can’t do in their own communities, with their own tax dollars.

There’s probably not a day that goes by without these companies regretting letting that caveat make it into the final bill.

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Comments on “Colorado Town Offers 1 Gbps For $60 After Years Of Battling Comcast”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

You mean those companies who advertise speeds UP to, "unlimited", & keep raising fees for no reason other than they can might lie about something that might hurt their bottom line??
Say it isn’t so!

They’ve had decades & billions of dollars, not managed to do much with it other than offer lip service. For a small portion of what we’ve given them a town can build out a network that puts them to shame & pay for itself… who’d have thunk??

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You mean those companies who advertise speeds UP to

Do you think Fort Collins will be different? There’s no way they’re reserving 1 Gbps on the backbone for every gigabit customer. $60/month is way too cheap for guaranteed gigabit speeds, which means it’s "UP TO" a gigabit per second. Customers won’t see 10% of that if everyone starts to download at maximum speed at the same time. But we can hope the overprovisioning won’t be as bad as other ISPs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It sounds great, but let’s dump on the incumbent ISPs for the stuff they’re actually doing wrong. Like the prices, caps, false advertising, and don’t forget the terrible customer service (literally the worst companies in America!). And maybe excessive overprovisioning—but overprovisioning is not a problem in and of itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Anonymous Coward

It is standard to provision internet service at ~10% of theoretical demand, because not everyone will be using it to max capacity all the time.

For example, let’s say you download a 100 GB game (not uncommon size for modern video games). That will take about 15 minutes @ 1 Gbps. Then what? download another big game? Unlikely.

Let’s say your household is downloading four super-HD streams from Netflix. That’s about 50 Mbps.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I live in Longmont and pay $49/month for gigabit speeds (not up to)

See Bill Moore’s comment below. Just because you haven’t saturated the network doesn’t mean it’s not an "up to" speed. If everyone on your "cluster" decides to use 1 Gbit/s at once, you’ll find out. (Nextlight looks to use GPON, with 2.5 Gbit/s split up to 32 ways.) Or if hundreds of people in different clusters do it, you’ll hit an upstream limit.

That’s normal, and there’s nothing wrong with it—provided it’s a well-managed network, as Longmont’s seems to be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe if the democrats get into power they could pass a law saying all states must be allowed to vote to allow community broadband in
any town or city .
especially where there is only one isp offering a broadband service
that is over 25 meg per second.
Comcast cannot compete in the free market or provide a first class
service so it creates laws that will limit potential rivals that might provide a high quality service to consumers .

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Wow aren’t you deluded. This has nothing to do with democrats or republicans, it has to do with corrupt politicians on each side of the aisle. Once they are in office as soon as the big money from companies like Comcast comes rolling in they almost ALL vote for whatever the lobbyists are pushing.

To debunk you second point. Comcast can compete. I am in an area that has Comcast and Verizon. Comcast has remained competitive with Verizon, even when Verizon started offering 1GB fiber. I am not a customer of Comcast but will be again at some point when Verizon starts treating me like shit.

Will Rubin says:

Re: Re: Re:

We’ll see. Trump is trying to have the courts declare that California cannot pass state laws that overrule federal laws for emission standards. If that happens then the floodgates are open for this sort of thing and the Dems can pass federal laws saying states must allow competition from local/state entities. Should be interesting.

Gary (profile) says:

Why fight it?

Legislation is so much easier than competition.

In 2007 the Telcos spent $1 million to cripple the broadband. What a great investment! They reaped that back in yearly profits from the price hikes.

But as Reason would say, this is the goal of the free market. Take the most economical path to enrichment at the expense of anything that gets in the way. If it’s cheaper to sabotage than innovate, then that is obviously the best course of action.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why fight it?

You have it backwards. The value of political clout as a commodity grows directly in proportion to how much authority government control exerts over industry. A "free market" — by definition, one that is free of all government control — cannot be for sale, because the value of political clout is zero.

In reality, what you are referring to is personal greed of individuals, enabled by paid-for political clout, to:

  1. Minimize personal cost/risk.
  2. Maximize personal profit.
  3. Enforce 1 and 2 in perpetuity, via government-granted monopoly.

The more heavily regulated a market, the more this becomes evident. Other than the telecom industry, another example is the pharmaceutical industry, where a small number of incumbents — appointed by government fiat — exercise monopolistic powers by charging increasingly disproportionate (relative to money invested) prices for their products.

Bill Moore says:

Gigabit speeds and municipal networks

We have this in Longmont now. $59 a mo.

1000MB up and 1000MB down.

Had it for 4 years now. Still gives me (almost) a full gig.

They’re using smart planning. Each cluster of homes (25) has a 3.5GB connection. It’s definiately ‘up to’ 1gb but… almost no one, ever, uses that much data in a sustained way, so, it’s effectively 1gb all the time (i.e., when you need it… it’s there).

Ben (profile) says:

Re: Gigabit speeds and municipal networks

There needs to be a detailed "How To" workbook on setting up a community broadband network: Cost break downs on what equipment is needed, fixed infrastructure needs, and needs "per customer". Then maintenance and personnel costs over time.

This is something that would be necessary in order to present to a board of selectmen to say "this is what it will cost to set up, and it will be self supporting in X years" (along with other reasons to do it such as support for schools and other government entities (police, fire, dpw, and town hall))

I’ve looked and found nothing like that at all. There are of course other issues, such as possibly dealing with State-related legislation (like Colorado’s), but those should be separable from the actual installation issues.

Paul F. says:

Re: Re: Gigabit speeds and municipal networks

Hope I can comment here without creating an account. Ben, you might like and dislike my opinion in equal amounts but here goes. There’s just too much variance from city to city (if that’s the target) to come up with more than just guidelines or a checklist of everything that needs to be considered. Vendors are constantly churning out new technology so trying to capture the hardware required and how much it costs would be valid for only a brief period of time. A vendor may even have different price sheets for different customers for the same equipment.

What you’re asking for can only be generated on a case by case basis. So what happens is the city puts a planning RFP on the street to capture all your data points and many more. Client will review all the responses they get and pick the consultant they think offered the best response. Established consultants such as we have in CO have a lot of experience addressing all significant issues involved in planning a network and how much it should cost.

There is a repository of CO broadband planning RFPs at the following site:

DOLA is a CO agency that provides funding for both planning and build RFPs. Enjoy.

okeemike (profile) says:

Re: Gigabit speeds and municipal networks

I’m curious…where do you get the 25 homes / 3.5 GB info? I’m in FoCo, and have Century Link 1 Gig service.

Over the past 4 years, it’s gradually declined in quality from a consistent 1G up/down to 769/500.

I’m just curious how many people I’m splitting this connection with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Gigabit speeds and municipal networks

You can look up GPON on Wikipedia (Gigabit Passive Optical Network). It says 2.4 Gbit/s downstream, 1.2 upstream, shared between up to 128 homes. 3.5 might be the sum of downstream+upstream, with 25 homes being a local policy. Or maybe there’s a slightly different standard.

When cables modems were new, it was common for providers to be overwhelmed by demand and let the network segments grow way too large, such that people might get less than 10% of the promised speed. The solution is a node split, same as with PON standards.

Why not try asking your ISP how many people you’re sharing with? With small ISPs, there’s a decent chance of getting a response from a technical person, and it’s always good to have a technical contact before you really need one.

okeemike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Gigabit speeds and municipal networks

Well, technically, Century Link is GPON, not DSL, but at the end of the day, there’s a still a limited amount of bandwidth. I might be wrong, but the ‘real’ difference between the two is really just how the signal is transmitted (copper vs fiber), as well as increases of both potential speed and distance.

Perhaps one can be split between more/fewer houses than the other, but the number of people on the loop has got to have an impact on bandwidth…would else would explain the speed differences between 2pm and 2am?

Paul F. says:

Re: Re: Gigabit speeds and municipal networks

okeemike, I find your statement of how fast your connection used to be and what it is now interesting because that’s hard data that supports what happens when other subscribers start sharing your connection, "your" bandwidth. This happened to you over the course of years. I’m a network engineer. I both laugh and cringe whenever an equipment vendor says they can support up to 128 subscribers on a single fiber. The one fiber between the headend and splitter cabinet get snipped and you’re out a lot of customers. That’s silly. Also consider that for each increasing split number, 16 – 32, 32-64, 64 – 128 reduces the signal strength delivered to each subscriber by 3db or half, with each 2:1 split so that becomes a network design consideration. I know the folks who designed the Delta-Montrose muni broadband network and they limited their GPON splits to 1:16. Makes sense to me. I could not in good faith go over 1:32 unless someone higher up told me to and I have tucked away the email containing that directive over my objection.

I’ll throw in one more thing here that I haven’t seen commented on in this thread. You can guarantee 1G up/1G down with a dedicated pair of fibers to a customer. There’s no sharing. Obviously it does chew up network resources than one fiber supporting 32 subs. Ft. Collins at least is using very, very high count fiber cables. It was the largest I’d ever seen, around 1000, give or take.

ECA (profile) says:

Ok, time for the fun part..

Since the easy way has been blocked, what do we have to do, to make this look bad?
Can we get a few hackers into this and make things worse?
Where is there Main service connection to the net,and can we Bog the service connection down?
Where is the access point, Do we OWN it already? We wil do as California does it, and Bounce their connections all over, so they can hold a static connection, which can Make games and programs THINK the City Citizens never have the same computer, and ask them to REDO their connections. enter passwords and such to PROVE who they are, every time they connect.
Can we SPAM, their Whole system?
Can we Wait for 5-7 years then BUY THEM OUT??

Its always annoyed me, how spam can be sent to ## people and a Server cant tell, its spam..
I wonder if the Major corps sell off our info..MORE MONEY.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Paying US however always works(for us).'

The telecom sector simply loves trying to insist that community-run broadband is an inevitable taxpayer boondoggle.

It always amuses me when they try to undermine community broadband in this fashion, because if that same standard was applied to them they probably wouldn’t come out looking so great.

How many times have companies like Comcast been given significant subsidies and/or tax cuts under a ‘deal’ that they will create a network providing X level of service for Y number of houses, only to fall flat on their promises and provide a fraction of that?

If ‘the taxpayers might not get the service promised to them’ is the standard for rejecting proposed broadband deployment then I’m pretty sure the likes of Comcast shouldn’t be getting so much as a cent, as their history of taxpayer money for broadband service is not exactly too rosy.

Slow Joe Crow says:

The thing that makes municipal broadband cheap is they only spend money on actual service and not buying legislators and expensive advertising. The rural telephone co-op in Scio Oregon was advertising gigabit service as early as 2014, only charges $120 a month
I see the same thing with electricity, the rural co-op charges about half of what PGE did, even after they spun off from Enron.

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