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Boulder, Colo., Officials Consider Public-Private Fiber Network

With the completion of the city’s fiber-optic network approaching, city staff have recommended that a public-private partnership would be much more cost effective to operate when compared to a city-run service.

(TNS) —In the coming weeks, Boulder will begin a months-long community engagement series in effort to learn residents' goals and desires for the future of the Boulder Municipal Airport.

At its regular study session Thursday, the Boulder City Council discussed a timeline for this community engagement.

The plan to hold community engagement on the airport was first discussed as part of the 2020 Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, said Natalie Stiffler, Boulder interim director of transportation and mobility, ahead of Thursday's study session. The hope is to complete the process ahead of the city's next airport master plan, which is intended to begin late this year and last about 18 months. The last airport master plan was completed in 2007.

The city has hired consulting firm Kimley-Horn, which has already begun connecting with various community members to understand common interests, challenges and opportunities for the airport, Stiffler said. So far, the feedback the firm has heard includes more noise restrictions, enhancing flight tracking software capabilities and a desire to remove leaded fuel.

Stiffler said those conversations will continue in the coming months in the form of one-on-one conversations, two public open houses and a community working group.

Following a staff presentation, the City Council agreed with staff's next steps to begin the engagement process. City Councilmember Bob Yates also provided feedback and listed several organizations he would like to see on the community working group which includes the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, emergency services and flight instructors.

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Wallach and City Councilmember Junie Joseph expanded on Yates' list, saying they want to see residents who live near the airport included in the community working group.

"If you don't expand the group at the table, you're going to get a fairly predictable outcome, and I would like to see a less predictable outcome," Wallach said.

City Councilmember Nicole Speer added that she would like to see the transportation advisory board included as well as parks and open space and a representative who can bring a social and equity aspect to the group.

On a separate but aviation-related topic, Boulder staff asked the City Council if it is interested in applying for city membership in the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport Community Noise Roundtable in order to give the city a say in noise-related matters that affect Boulder residents.

Elected officials from Arvada, Boulder County, Broomfield, Jefferson County, Lafayette, Louisville, Superior and Westminster all currently serve on the CNR.

The council ultimately supported joining the Community Noise Roundtable. Wallach agreed to represent the city on the committee, and City Councilmember Tara Winer will serve as an alternate.

The last item of the night was an update on the construction of Boulder's broadband backbone that will conclude this year.

The City Council approved the project in 2018, and the following year it agreed to issue about $20 million in debt in order to take on the project. So far, the city has completed 75% of its 65-mile fiber optic backbone, and it is expected to wrap up the project by the end of this year, said Tim Scott, Boulder broadband project manager.

As the project moves closer to completion, staff on Thursday recommended the city pursue a public-private operating approach to roll out its broadband infrastructure. For this approach, the city would work with a private provider that would utilize the city's backbone to implement broadband. Annual operating costs for this approach and a second approach would be about $50,000. The second option, which is already included in the staff-recommended option, entails Boulder using its backbone to provide broadband to residents and businesses that are not already served by a private provider. The last option on the table would be a city-run broadband network which would entail the city providing all of the marketing, billing and technical services, like what is done in Longmont. It is estimated to cost about $138 million to construct, maintain and operate.

Ultimately the City Council agreed to have staff begin studying the public-private approach, which will include a request for proposal to see whether a private provider is willing to partner with the city to offer broadband. Council members added that they want staff to evaluate what community's needs are for high-speed internet.

"We're all happy with what we have right now and have our fingers crossed for a better day," Yates said. "That's fine. That's not proactive, that's reactive and passive, and as you saw on that map that the staff provided, we're falling farther and farther and farther behind our Front Range peers."

©2023 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.