The 50-mile fiber-optic project that began in 2016 could eventually connect more than 100,000 residents throughout the community.
(TNS) — After two years and nearly $6 million, Centennial has a backbone.
A 50-mile-long fiber-optic backbone that could eventually provide the more than 100,000 residents of this south metro community lickety-split Internet that will make moving data-intensive files or receiving smooth-streaming video a breeze.
Centennial this month finished construction, started in 2016, of a 432-strand fiber network that winds through every neighborhood in this city, setting up the capability for residents and businesses to get 1 gigabit per second up and down speeds at their homes and offices.
The three-loop network, dubbed FiberWorks, is already proving a boost to Isaac Herman, who owns a video game production company and works out of his Centennial home in the Willow Creek neighborhood. Herman was one of the early adopters of the new broadband service, which for now is available on a limited basis in the city.
“We do a lot of file transfers,” said Herman, whose gigabit service went live in September and replaced service he had been getting from Comcast. “The video calls (with employees and clients) are a lot better than before.”
Centennial’s foray into this arena is the latest evolution of broadband deployment in a state that has, with remarkable consistency, embraced the idea of giving local governments a role in delivering high-speed Internet. That includes eight more communities — including Aurora, Wheat Ridge, Florence and Erie — that voted earlier this month to opt out of a 2005 state law that bars municipalities from providing Internet service.
There are now 101 Colorado cities and towns, as well as dozens of counties, that have cast off the mandates of Senate Bill 152, according to the Colorado Municipal League. The residents of Centennial lifted the state restriction in 2013.
“What the continued momentum of very successful SB 152 opt-out ballot initiatives demonstrates is how critical access to high-speed, affordable broadband is for every citizen in the state,” said Tony Neal-Graves, executive director of the Colorado Broadband Office. “The question is no longer if we should do it but how.”
The “how” is critical because getting into the broadband game is no cheap or easy matter. For the majority of cities and towns that have opted out of SB 152 over the last decade, the expense of launching a municipal network, coupled with sometimes challenging topography and dispersed populations, has made the venture a tall order.
“What is clear to me is that there are multiple approaches to address the need for broadband access,” Neal-Graves said. “In particular, municipalities need to determine what makes the most sense for their community based on criteria such as size of the community, access to capital and technical expertise.”
That could mean a full-service approach or partnering with the private sector, said Tim Scott, Centennial’s director of fiber infrastructure. Unlike Longmont, which is using its electric utility to build out and manage its NextLight municipal broadband Internet service, Scott said Centennial has no interest in being an Internet service provider.
The city has simply laid down the raw fiber loop from which private Internet providers can lease bandwidth to service customers, he said. That dissipates the risk for the city should the broadband service prove a tough sell.
“We’re not at all dependent on how successful a new entrant (Internet service provider) is,” Scott said. “They still have to go door to door and sell the service.”
That’s a challenge Canadian company Ting is willing to take on. The Internet service provider signed a 20-year non-exclusive lease with Centennial to provide what it calls “crazy-fast fiber Internet” to residents and businesses. It charges $89 a month for its gigabit service.
“We have seen extremely strong demand in the neighborhoods where service is available or being built,” said Monica Webb, Ting’s director of market development and government affairs. “We intend to build this out to the entire city.”
Webb admits that might take a couple of years, given the capital and effort involved in making the last-mile connections from Centennial’s fiber backbone to each individual address in the city. She said the company doesn’t have an official completion deadline but expects to have 30 to 40 percent of its network built in the city by the end of next year.
Though a gigabit-per-second upload and download speed is far more than the average household needs today, Webb said with the increasing number of connected devices people have in their homes and the way Internet of things technology is integrating online controls into more everyday systems — like thermostats, security networks and kitchen appliances — data demand will only continue rising.
Last month the city signed a fiber lease agreement with another company, Avata Networks, to provide service to Centennial’s central business district.
That company said it expects to start construction of its connections off the city’s $5.7 million data backbone in the spring.
Ken Lucas, a Centennial city council member who serves as chair of the city’s fiber commission, said the 432 strands in Centennial’s network give the city plenty of bandwidth capacity for years to come. That could prove invaluable to the development of Centennial as a “smart city,” where technologically linked systems like street lights, autonomous shuttles and high-density Wi-Fi work in concert to enhance mobility and an environmental sustainable lifestyle.
Guaranteed speedy Internet could also position Centennial nicely from a business competition standpoint, Lucas said.
“It puts us in a place where with all of these technologies coming out — autonomous vehicles and smart city applications — where we can take advantage of all these technologies moving forward,” he said.
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