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Boulder, Colo., Still Pondering Internet Options

The city council is torn on how to make full use of the city's miles of fiber network.

(TNS) -- A Boulder City Council operating at less than half-strength pondered Thursday night how the city can best make use of its existing fiber infrastructure to deliver improved Internet service, without assuming too great a financial risk.

There is no debating that fiber is the future of high-speed Internet, and Boulder is sitting on about 100 miles of it. But to get from where it is today to a fiber-to-the-home service that covers the city, Boulder is either going to have to do that itself, a la Longmont, or partner with a private company that would set up the last-mile fiber the city needs, or both.

The Maryland consulting firm CTC Technology and Energy, now about one week into what will be a four- or five-month feasibility study, on Thursday offered the council roughly the same presentation it delivered at two public meetings on Monday.

But the council the firm met with Thursday featured only four of its nine members. Departing councilmen Tim Plass, George Karakehian and Macon Cowles left the study session before broadband came up, and incoming members Jan Burton, Bob Yates and Aaron Brockett haven't yet started their terms.

"Anything we say tonight," Morzel said to the consultants, "you have to take with a grain of salt."

CTC President Joanne Hovis said that since holding the public meetings on Monday, she's gotten a strong impression of the city even in a brief few days.

"The city is to be commended in terms of what you have done so far," she said, "with regard to fiber and conduit. You have a fiber network for city needs that is as extensive as anything I've seen in 18 years. ...You're doing a lot of things very well."

Hovis said that she also sees small businesses in Boulder clamoring for better broadband.

"This is quite consistent with most metropolitan areas in the United States," she added. "It'll be an area that we investigate in some detail."

Boulder's council members have not expressed a great desire to form a municipal broadband system like the one in Longmont, and that theme held true on Thursday. How a public-private partnership would look, exactly, remains to be seen, but Mayor Matt Appelbaum said that Boulder should be cautious in deciding which company to team with.

"I'm personally willing to take some risk. I think the city is ready to take some risk," he said. "But I think that issue of control, which is everything from pricing to future technology, is kind of the critical question."

The city was clear, however, that fast, reliable, straight-to-the-home broadband needs to happen.

"People are watching Longmont and wondering why we're so far behind," Appelbaum said.

"There's frustration, too," Morzel added. "A lot."

©2015 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.