by Blaine Howerton | North Forty News
In 2013, Colorado had no municipal broadband. But just ten years after Longmont voters approved a bond issue to build the state’s first community-owned internet service, municipal broadband is transforming the lives of thousands in the northern Front Range and leading the way for a more connected Colorado.
Today, municipal networks are growing in Longmont (NextLight), Fort Collins (Connexion), Loveland (Pulse), and Estes Park (Trailblazer). And as Colorado works toward connecting 99% of its residents to broadband by 2027, the four providers have shown that community-owned internet service is not just a viable option but a successful one.
“Now that Colorado has lifted its restrictions on municipal broadband, we hope to see many more cities and towns learn what communities like Longmont, Fort Collins, Loveland, and Estes Park already know – that high-quality local internet can be a game-changer in making a more connected Colorado,” said Valerie Dodd, executive director of NextLight.
Pulse, the community-owned fiber internet provider based in Loveland, has finalized a lease agreement for a new office at Forge Campus.
Pulse is set to occupy approximately 13,000 square feet in Building C, located at 815 14th St. SW C100. This new location provides necessary space for the growing utility and will include retail space, allowing customers to experience the latest Pulse services and handle Pulse account-related tasks such as signing up for new services or exchanging equipment.
In mid-November, the City of Loveland announced Pulse’s infrastructure had reached a milestone with the completion of its Loveland capital construction. With an investment of nearly $110 million and a meticulously managed four-year timeline, Pulse’s network construction stands as the largest capital project in the city’s history.
“This infrastructure has been designed and built with future generations in mind, ensuring Loveland remains at the forefront of modern, robust, and future-proof internet delivery,” said Brieana Reed-Harmel, Pulse broadband manager.
Affordable broadband is also being delivered to residents through low-income programs.
In a commitment to equity, Connexion’s Digital Inclusion Program in Fort Collins has set aside 6% of its revenue to connect income-qualified residents affordably. Across all the communities, around 2,000 residents now have access to low-cost or free internet who might not have otherwise been able to afford broadband.
“Community-wide internet access is about more than just convenience; it’s about fostering inclusivity and bridging the digital divide while providing a minimum of 1 Gig speed to all. By providing affordable and reliable internet services to all residents, we empower individuals to thrive, unlocking endless opportunities for advancement and social progress within our communities,” says Chad Crager, Broadband Executive Director, Connexion.
In Estes Park, Reuben Bergsten, Utilities Director, says the city is bridging divides through the program. “Compared to our front-range partners, we have a relatively small team working to make Trailblazer Broadband successful. We’ve found that our teams’ resilience, quick action, and a positive attitude is what makes community-owned broadband successful. Trailblazer Broadband is also the foundation on which our forward-thinking community will bridge the digital divide, expand commerce, and maximize its renewable energy goals,” said Bergsten.
All of the programs keep dollars local and reinvest them into the community. Affordability can reach as low as 2 cents per megabit at the fastest speed levels.
Achievements that have not only transformed communities within city limits but they have inspired partnerships with their neighbors.
For example, Pulse, Connexion, and Trailblazer have teamed up with Larimer County officials, creating the NOCO Community Fiber Coalition. The coalition intends to bridge the digital divide by extending reliable broadband beyond municipal limits to underserved regions.
“Through our dedication, we’ve not only transformed our city with lightning-fast connectivity but also inspired other communities to follow suit in creating a better, more connected region,” says Brieana Reed-Harmel, Municipal Fiber Manager, Pulse.
Nationwide, more than 600 communities enjoy some form of municipal broadband, often finding the results to be a game-changer. One of the nation’s first municipal providers, EPB in Chattanooga, Tenn., was found to have created $2.2 billion of positive economic impact in its first decade; another municipal service in Ammon, Idaho, found direct economic benefits of $78.2 million resulting from just $8.6 million of investment in its network.
As municipalities build their networks, connectivity through the state’s roadways is also becoming a reality.
The Colorado Department of Transportation recently announced The Colorado Transportation Commission has approved a fee schedule to facilitate access to CDOT rights of way – the land owned by the state alongside its roadways – for third parties installing fiber and expanding broadband.
“Just as our transportation system creates vital connections for all Coloradans, we all need the modern connectivity of broadband to fully access opportunities and services. The Transportation Commission has heard the perspectives of local communities throughout the state as well as industry concerns, and the proposal that we approved today offers greater opportunities for broadband development, competes favorably with our neighboring states on costs, and meets the state’s existing legal obligations to care for the public land under our responsibility,” said Transportation Commission Chair Karen Stuart.