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Boulder, Colo., Considers Funds for Expanded Broadband

As Boulder plans a citywide high-speed Internet backbone, the City Council will vote on whether to spend $2.5 million more to build several additional connections that would extend the broadband to specific locations.

TNS) — As design work continues on what will become the backbone of the citywide broadband network, Boulder City Council will consider whether to set aside additional money to fund key fiber laterals that will connect that backbone to specific locations.

Boulder City Council last summer voted unanimously to fund through the issuance of debt the construction of the backbone, then estimated to be about $15 million. On Tuesday, council will consider a motion to use an estimated $2.5 million to fund the construction of some lateral connections as well.

City staff has identified five city-owned buildings with an estimated market value of $20 million that would allow them to issue certificates of participation to fund the construction. The original estimate of $15 million was increased to account for design services of the 60 miles of dark fiber infrastructure that will run through the city, and the remaining money could be used for the lateral connections.

Staff said the funding could be used now, rather than later when costs are higher, and increase efficiency in construction.

"The purchasing power of the city goes down every year because commodities get more expensive; construction and labor get more expensive," said Julia Richman, Boulder chief innovation and technology officer. "The longer you wait on anything, the more expensive it gets."

Beyond that, residents will be affected by construction as crews build the backbone, and the city will already have a construction vendor on board, so more work could be done without crews having to come back and add the identified laterals later.

Building them at the same time as the backbone would be more efficient and reduce disruption and costs, staff stated in a memo to council.

"It has advantages from a constructability standpoint as well," Richman said.

The city has contracted with consultant firm Magellan Advisors, whose staff met with more than 20 stakeholder groups, including city departments and outside organizations such as Boulder Housing Partners, Boulder Valley School District, the University of Colorado and RTD.

They identified high-priority areas where laterals could provide connections to 154 transportation signal sites; high-priority sites identified by Boulder Housing Partners and manufactured housing communities; four RTD sites; park and open space sites that have high visitation and demand for Internet services; public safety radio towers; and the proposed North Boulder Library.

While these priorities emerged now, far more laterals will be needed as the project moves forward.

"These are a small number of laterals," Richman said. "In order to get to community-useable fiber, we'll have to do a big project around that.

"This is taking a tiny bite of the apple."

Council will provide feedback on which laterals should be prioritized, if they choose to use funding from the certificates of participation for them.

Richman cautioned that this portion of the project is "dark fiber" — meaning residents will not yet see services. Added Tim Scott, a consultant on the project: "This is primarily an infrastructure project, and this is the first step of that infrastructure project."

The estimated cost of building a full city-owned Internet service provider is about $140 million. The amount of money available at any given time will determine how quickly the project moves forward.

"We're going to develop a strategy that allows us to always be moving forward," Richman said.

©2019 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.