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Fort Collins Connexion Municipal Broadband Pros and Cons

Bottom Line

Fort Collins Connexion will provide high-speed, reliable, low-cost internet access to the entire community within two years, a critically important investment in the city's future that families and businesses should enthusiastically support.

Background

Fort Collins Connexion is city-provided fiber broadband internet, phone and television service.

It was launched after a 2017 city ballot initiative passed with 57% of the vote.

Construction began in August 2019 and is expected to be completed by Q4 2022.

Pros

Public utility

  • Provide fast internet to all (families, businesses, schools, libraries, hospitals, mobile homes, low-income housing)
  • Internet should be a public utility (like phone, electric, gas, water, sewer, USPS)
  • Designed to serve the community, not generate profit
  • Lower the digital divide
  • Net neutrality, equal access vs. closed internet, pay to play, price tiers

Competition

  • Break up duopoly of commercial broadband providers (Comcast, CenturyLink)
  • Provide faster speeds, better customer service, and lower prices for all

Community benefits

  • Attracts people and businesses
  • Economic growth and development, job creation and retention
  • Worker productivity, including city workers
  • Improves city systems - government, transport, utilities, health, safety
  • Free public wi-fi hot spots
  • Fiber can be installed with electricity, reducing cost of new builds

Consumer demand

  • The majority of Fort Collins citizens voted for city-run broadband
  • Longmont and many other cities have successfully implemented city broadband
  • High speed internet is more important for home videoconferencing for work and school due to COVID-19

Speed

  • Fiber is faster and more reliable than current commercial tech (cable, DSL)
  • Fiber is the most future-oriented tech, with much faster speeds possible
  • Speed becomes more important with time, and older services will soon become obsolete
  • Commercial providers won’t risk investing in large-scale fiber installations
  • Commercial providers could even use Connexion to deliver their services

Pricing

  • Connexion: 1G $60/month, no contract, free installation, no data limit, city wide
  • Comcast: 1G $100/month no contract + taxes/fees/$99 installation, 1.2TB/month data limit, 85.2% availability
  • Century Link: 1G $65/month + taxes/fees/installation, 8.1% availability 
  • Clear, simple, transparent pricing is published on the Connexion site
  • Prices are stable, and may allow cheaper options later as more people sign up
  • Digital Equity program in 2021 will offer reduced rates for low-income customers
  • No pushy salespeople, hidden prices, confusing deals/promotions, price increases after a year, bells and whistles you didn’t ask for
  • No taxes are used to pay for it; bonds are paid by customers and investors

Cons

Competitiveness

  • 94.11% of residents have access to broadband, 90.4% have at least 2 choices
  • Connexion currently doesn’t offer cheap lower-speed options like Longmont does
  • Comcast currently offers a few slightly cheaper (but slower) internet options
  • Not everyone can afford any home internet, or needs super-fast internet yet
  • Most people currently use very high speed internet for fun (HD video, gaming), not work or learning
  • Comcast TV/video channels, options, prices are better than Connection
  • Municipal broadband may actually decrease competition in some communities

Risks

  • Connexion website has FAQ and 2 quarterly reports but can’t give rollout details
  • The project is 6 months behind schedule due to winter weather and COVID-19
  • Large up-front infrastructure investment required $142 million in bonds
  • The city needs to attract enough customers (28%) to pay off bonds and interest
  • If not, city taxpayers would have to pay them back through higher utility bills
  • Future competition with new commercial technologies (e.g. 5G networks)?

Political

  • The city’s advertising budget is much smaller than the commercial providers
  • The Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association (which included incumbent Comcast) spent nearly $1 million on lobbying efforts against Connexion
  • States resist municipal broadband because commercial providers pay state taxes
  • Support or opposition to municipal broadband is mostly along political party lines
  • Conservative cable industry lobby groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council convinced 26 states to ban or restrict municipal broadband
  • Libertarians and most other conservatives resist most government-provided services that compete with large corporations and reduce inequalities

References

Fort Collins Broadband Providers

Fort Collins Connexion News and Opinions

Other Cities

Success Rates

General

Technologies

Political