Longmont set to be first in Colo. to build Google-style fiber network

November 20, 2013

Photo: Longmont fiber Internet(Photo: Creative Commons)Maybe you’ve heard of the Google Fiber network in Kansas City.  It’s a super-fast internet connection that Google’s setting up across the city, and start-up businesses are moving in because of it. Other cities are trying it without Google’s help, including Longmont, Colo. 

After this month's election, Longmont is set to become the first Colorado city to make fiber connections available to all of its homes and businesses. But Longmont had to battle cable and internet providers to earn the right to become an Internet provider, and now, other Colorado cities may follow. 
Vince Jordan is heading the project for Longmont. He tells Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner that in terms of speed, the fiber connection Longmont is offering is like a land-speed-record-holder car to the regular service providers' Vespa scooter. He says bringing that super-fast Internet to all of the city's homes and businesses will be a huge economic development opportunity. He points to other U.S. cities that have had businesses move into town after becoming "gigabit cities:" offering a gigabit connection to anyone who wants it.
But there were plenty of politics that led up to this point. A contentious state law precludes municipalities in Colorado from offering telecommunications services unless their citizens vote to override that law. Longmont first tried to get that vote in 2009, and according to Jordan, the city was outspent $250,000 to just $95 by the existing Internet providers, namely CenturyLink and Comcast. Then Longmont tried to get the Google Fiber rollout that was eventually awarded to Kansas City. While the city failed to land Google, citizens' understanding of the project improved, and when Longmont put it back on the ballot in 2011, it passed. In the 2013 election, Longmont passed a bond enabling build out of the network citywide.
The city isn't guaranteed success, though. Earlier this year, Provo, Utah, sold its fiber network to Google for $1. The city had spent $39 million building it, but wasn't able to run it for a profit.
Despite the challenges, earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission said it wants every state to have at least one "gigabit city" by the year 2015. Denver lawyer Ken Fellman, who also teaches telecommunications law at CU-Boulder, explains why, and what Longmont can learn from other cities that have tried, at the end of Warner's interview with Jordan.