(TNS) -- An Erie connected by a sophisticated fiber-optic network, one that provides an ever-growing number of homes and businesses faster internet at prices competing with the likes of Comcast and CenturyLink, could be realized in the near future.
Trustees on Tuesday night approved a $65,000 contract with South Dakota-based Vantage Point Solutions for a feasibility study to see how — granted that there is a desire for such a system among residents — an alternative broadband structure could be best implemented.
A faster internet structure could manifest itself in a number of ways, officials say; such options could include an ordinance encouraging broadband providers to set up shop in town, to implementing something in the same vein as Longmont.
In 2014, Longmont rounded out a two-decades-long journey to connect customers to NextLight, its city-operated "fiber-to-the-home" service. Today, almost 350 miles of fiber serves residents within city limits.
"We have about a minimum of seven scenarios that our consultant will be looking at," Erie spokesman Fred Diehl said Tuesday. "Everything from passive involvement from the town in terms of legislative support to help boost broadband opportunity for a variety of reasons in Erie, all the way to looking at a municipal broadband scenario similar to the city of Longmont — that's a wide range."
Passive involvement could consist of offering up existing assets — such as right-of-way and existing infrastructure — to potential providers in lieu of direct funding, according to broadband advocates.
"It's a long distance between saying we want to assist the current incumbent providers and others who may be interested in providing service in Erie to wanting to get into the business itself," Diehl said.
Erie would first need its voters to say "yes" to opt out of Senate Bill 152, the law passed in 2005 restricting local governments from using taxpayer dollars to build an expensive broadband networks. A ballot measure wouldn't arrive in front of voters until April 2018, at the earliest.
It's an increasingly popular choice among Colorado cities — at least 65 to date have opted out of the statute via voter-sanctioned ballot measures, according to Community Broadband Networks — as they eschew what advocates call the confines of traditional, costly internet options.
"When we're going into a study," Lori Sherwood, of Vantage, said Tuesday, "the one thing that we recommend is you throw away any preconceived conclusions out of your mind and start from scratch; every community is different."
Demand among Colorado residents for broadband options has typically been high. Fervor is tapered back somewhat among local leaders, however, who worry that lofty expectations from citizens often spur municipalities into rushed promises — often with disastrous results.
"We don't necessarily know that this is the wave of the future for long term," Trustee Dan Woog, who offered the board's lone "no" vote, said Tuesday.
Erie last year decided to forgo placing a broadband-focused question onto the ballot, opting instead for further study.
While specific options for how Erie could best provide broadband will come to light over the next several weeks, there are some constants that should exist, says Jeff Gavlinski, a co-owner and co-chairman of Mountain Connect, a Colorado-based broadband development conference.
"When towns own the infrastructure, it allows for two really important things," he said. "First, they don't have to ask for permission when they need to do something; most communities need to call a provider to ask permission."
The second is controlling the quality of the network itself.
"Not every community is suited to be a last-mile provider," he added. "If you're focused on an open-access, community-based network where you control the assets, it allows for flexibility but it also means that you don't need to worry about issues with local providers in terms of competing against them."
However Erie approaches a community-wide broadband network, a model for the region's interests has long lied in Longmont's successful effort, advocates argue — though they say specific circumstances are required.
Longmont is consistently credited as having one of the fastest internet speeds in the nation, and it will most likely inform how surrounding governments approach the issue for years to come.
The future of connectivity lies with fiber, according to NextLight spokesman Scott Rochat, who says the system is infinitely scalable; one capable of supporting connectivity far into the future, even as technology transforms.
"People still haven't found the limits of what fiber optics can do yet," he said last month. "If you want to scale it up, it's just a matter of changing the electronics up at either end of the fiber you already have in the ground."
For NextLight customers, prices for regular one gig connections are around $100 a month — a price typically cheaper than most competitors, and one that reflects lightning-quick connectability.
"When you turn on your hall lights in your house, your television doesn't immediately turn off. That's because you have a system in place that's well designed; we believe broadband should be the same way," Rochat said.
©2017 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.