News, Strategy

Boulder chooses between PPP and private providers for its municipal network

The city of Boulder, Colorado, is in the planning stages of providing “a community broadband network [that] affords households and businesses much faster internet at lower average costs,” according to Alex Burness of Daily Camera.

Last week, Maryland-based CTC Technology and Energy issued its report, after a months-long study that cost the city $150K, on how the city should manage its 100 miles of buried, dormant high-speed fiber. CTC, which examined both residents’ demand for high-speed broadband and private firms’ willingness to invest, found “uniquely keen private-sector interest in [building out “last-mile” fiber] and in Boulder’s fiber future… because of the high projected rate at which at tech-savvy city like Boulder would switch over from their current providers to pay for a new and improved service.”

Indeed, in Boulder there is a lot of work that cannot be done with current broadband speeds: Burness highlights the case of software business owner Henry Koren, whose broadband is cappted at 30 Mbps upload speed at work, and because his firm’s phone system goes over the Internet and so uses considerable bandwidth, “the prospect of internet at literally 30 times that speed is extremely appealing.”

Because of private sector interest in Boulder, CTC’s report urges the city to look closely at a public-private partnership (PPP) or a concession to a private provider that “does the full build-out of the network, then operates and maintains it.” CTC recommends against a municipal network built, controlled, and operated by the city – like the network operated by the nearby city of Longmont.

Indeed, CTC believes that with a PPP or a private concession, Boulder can increase broadband speeds while lowering prices, as incumbent ISPs Comcast and CenturyLink “could no longer get away with [charging average $100 per household with low speeds and poor customer service] without losing substantial portions of their respective Boulder bases.”

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