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Boulder moves to fund citywide fiber buildout through debt (dailycamera.com)
379 points by crunchlibrarian on June 14, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 200 comments

I went to school at the University of Colorado Boulder. Something this article doesn't mention is that the city already has over 100 miles of fiber laid that isn't currently being lit up: http://www.govtech.com/dc/articles/Boulder-Colo-To-Light-Up-.... There were several groups of students looking to build companies to utilize this existing infrastructure, as well as business interests outside the city, but it just never went anywhere. I hope that it will see use soon, I was very envious of my friends that would commute in from nearby Longmont that could use their awesome municipal ISP.

In Australia, fiber-to-the-home vs. fiber-to-the-node has been a fairly political issue about which I knew very little, so I looked it up. [1] After reading about parent comment and the miles of unused fiber, I wondered what the difference between fiber near my home vs fiber in my home would be, and found some good info. [2]

[1l http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-13/federal-election-nb...

[2] https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/whats-difference-fttc-fttp-car...

There is new tech like g.fast that enables gigabit speeds over copper wire like an existing phone line for short distances.

"First released in October 2013, and updated several times since, the DOCSIS 3.1 suite of specifications support capacities of up to 10 Gbit/s downstream and 1 Gbit/s upstream"


I wonder what speeds would be achievable over the ancient copper wire in my building.

Depends. If it's 50+ years old it'll be fine, sure, some of the joints might not be, but that's not awful to fix.

Then Copper prices went up massively for a while and thinner guage twister pair went in at best, and Aluminium was used at worst.

The problem is that FTTP/H has a much larger up front cost because of having to clear out potentially blocked ducts if underground, and the labour intensive work that needs to be done at the property.

How is it different from cable? One person can dig a trench and lay cable through a large yard in about two hours. This is essentially how cable tv and internet are hooked up.

Most places already have cable laid, change the equipment at the end is much easier than laying new lines

Yes, but the parent was implying that fiber is somehow has more difficult to lay than regular coax.

100 miles of fiver isn’t really that much is it? Maybe in absolute terms but when you have runs to each house that’s probably less than a couple hundred homes

Boulder isn't very large.

It would depend on where it's laid. If it's 100 miles of residential streets that's not that useful, but if it's 100 miles of major thoroughfares that means it's much easier to build it out across the city.

This is the case in many, many major cities. When discussing this type of rollout, it’s almost always talking about last-mile, which is the most expensive to rollout and maintain.

This is exactly what I was thinking about while reading the article. Funny they didn't mention it.

I'd love to learn more about this. Do you have any more info? Email is ryan [@] shea . cool

Obligatory Sko' Buffs!

Some back of the napkin math. $140 million for 40,000 households in Boulder = $3,500 per household. If 50% of people subscribe (typical for municipal broadband), that's $7,000 per subscribing household, or higher than Charter's market cap per subscriber.

A quarter of the population of the city is below the poverty line. If the intent is to offer them subsidized broadband, let's assume we get no capital recovery from those households. That brings the cost to $4,666 per household, or $9,300 per subscribing household.

This is high, but not out of the ballpark. Verizon spent about $3,500 on average for each paying subscriber for FiOS. Chattanooga's system was about $5,500 per household.

$1.1m/year payback (20 years)

$1,100,000/year, 40,000 households, so $27.50/year mean income per household to service the debt.

If only 50% of households (you said people) subscribe, then $55/year mean income per household to service the debt. If, again, as you state, no capital contribution from households below the poverty line, then, using your math (which, btw, double counts these), we're talking $110/year, or $9.16/sub/month to service the debt.

Here in Austin, there are three providers of 1gbps/1gbps FTTH internet, and all are priced just under $60/mo.

I think someone can probably figure out how to build a similar service in Boulder, paying the City of Boulder $10/mo per subscriber household, and still make fat rolls of cash.

That $1.1 million is just for the $15 million initial phase, not the $140 million full buildout.

Exactly. This makes so much sense for the city. This type of calculation doesn’t even include a fuzzy bump in technological growth for a city that’s connected with cheap fiber.

The monthly cost of fiber in Austin has gone up a bit since you last checked. Google and Grande charge $70/month. AT&T is up to $80.

Repaid over twenty years, as I understand it: "A 20-year debt structure would require annual payments of $1.1 million from the city, according to staff estimates. That could be supplemented with money from the city's general fund and, perhaps, revenue generated by early customers of the fiber network." Though there is some math discrepancy since that would not cover the $140 million. Nonetheless, as a Boulderite, I am happy to finally see this happening.

That's about 10 million per year in debt payments for the full $140 million investment. If you assume that 50% of households subscribe, and the city subsidizes rates so no capital is recovered from folks below the poverty line, that's about $686/year per subscribing household. Which is crazy high--the non-subsidized ARPU will have to be $140 to break even. (Which is also not out of line--Verizon will barely break even on FiOS at $110 ARPU, and that deployment was cheaper and had no subsidy component.)

$100/mo for FTTH vs. $69/mo for 250MB/s Comcast?

I'll take the FTTH and leave Comcast and Century Link behind, thank you very much.

Would be even better if the City charged you for the fiber link and then let you select your backend provider. E.g., the way consumer choice works in the electric space. Let the city run/own the cable, and let the back-end carriers compete to provide the backbone and value-added services. Give every house a basic connection that lets them interact with city and state services only, for free.

Maybe you're willing to pay more. Most people probably aren't. (FiOS uptake rates are under 40% even though its always been much faster than competing cable services.) And the brutal economics of fiber really punish you for that. If your uptake rate goes from 50% to 33%, your per-subscriber costs have to go up to compensate (which puts even more downward pressure on your uptake rate).

The average Comcast customer paid something like $150/mo in 2017.

Replace that with a $100/mo. FTTH plan, plus Netflix and you're still saving money. And many people have Netflix + Comcast already.

I image that $150/mo average include cable and landline? I spent between $35-65/mo at my last 3 apartments (CA, KS, MO) for ~100-200mbps through Comcast for internet only.

An extra 50 a month is definitely worth not ever dealing with Comcast support or their shitty network.

FIOS includes TV. The real issue is Verizon is not that much better than cable companies.

I'm not sure I understand your first point? TV is a major part of the economics of fiber deployment. Chattanooga's fiber system also includes TV, so does Google Fiber. As to your second point--have you ever had FiOS? Verizon's wireline division is run like old-school AT&T--FiOS is very high quality.

I have used FIOS for the last 5 years. For a while they where throttling Netflix just like the Cable companies, so better sure but they also wanted to kill net neutrality just like the cable companies.

As to TV, you spread the network costs over both internet AND cable TV and should include a portion of TV/equipment rental revenue when calculating payback periods. Cord cutters are significant, but many people still want cable TV channels and rent DVR's.

I agree you need to include TV revenue--that's why I threw in Verizon's $110 ARPU (which includes TV), and suggested that Boulder's more expensive system would have to hit an even higher number like $140 (including TV).

So $200 million for the entire build out including debt costs? Your debt calculation assumes a Muni-bond rate of 4% which seems high to me. AAA muni bonds are more like 2.8%.

Comcast charges $160 a month for 1000 Mbps internet and $110 a month for 400 Mbps. The $100 per month you quote isn't terrible when compared to those numbers.

I wish people would also list the upload speeds, which for doing backups, sending grandma 4k video links of the kids, etc is miserable on the 20-40Mbit, that the cable companies are providing to go with most of their "gigabit" packages.

The idea that you need to use facebook's/etcs spyware just to share a couple photos with your friends goes against the entire premise of the internet's PtP architecture.

More generally, does a media companies ownership of the infrastructure create a conflict of interest when it comes to providing a symetric communications path so you can stream your kids video's instead of having to involve a 3rd party to "cache" them for you?

Unless Comcast is doing a fiber installation to your home, it's not comparable. They are probably just raising the caps they have on their existing conditions, but the neighborhood is still sharing the same amount of bandwidth. It's also not symmetrical up and down.

If I was an employee of Comcast, when someone asked what I did I would be so ashamed I would rather say "i am a prostitute that uses the money for drugs".

I'm impressed by your math skills, but I used to live in Boulder and I'm shocked to learn that 25% live below the poverty line. Is that really true? I suppose it could be the fact that many are college students, but still. That seems high.

Those trailer parks in North Boulder are very well hidden. Many don’t even realize they’re there. Some of the nicest trailers I’ve ever seen, FWIW.

I don't think that's true. Those parks aren't big and they're still expensive because the property itself is expensive.

Most of the poverty number is due to all the college students - there are 33k of them in a town of 108k.

There's also the hippy co-ops like the radish.

There's also a ton of kids waiting fir their trust fund to, vest I guess?, and don't really care that they aren't making any money at the moment.

Most cities try to hide trailer parks as much as possible. 99% Invisible recently did an episode on mobile homes that was pretty interesting.

Actually there are trailer parks in, I think, 4 different places in Boulder.

A rising tide doesn’t necessarily lift all ships.

The advantage of having this subsidized by Boulder is that the city will capture some of the increased productivity due higher speed internet in the form of taxes, both for individuals who are able to earn more money and companies that benefit from better internet infrastructure.

I've also read about studies that show that access to the internet improves health outcomes for poor people, so Boulder may also benefit from fewer emergency room visits and fewer sick days from those low-income households.

Which makes for a pretty compelling reason as to why Charter hasn't done it themselves.

That, or maybe $140M is a gross over estimate, or is referring to more than what’s discussed in the article? I’m tending toward that; it can’t possibly cost anywhere near $10k per subscriber to build out fiber normally, even in small cities, can it? Seems like if it was normally that expensive, there wouldn’t be fiber anywhere. What’s so different in Boulder? I’d speculate that CenturyLink paid less than $1k to run fiber to my house, even if I include my share of their neighborhood & citywide costs.

Fort Collins is in the midst of this right now, they proposed borrowing "up to 150 million" to roll their municipal fiber out. The cost break down is here, page 5.


I got a survey from Larimer County about having municipal internet. Of course, it doesn’t seem like it will make it to my place outside of Estes Park. I’m stuck with a 5mbps WISP :/.

> it can’t possibly cost anywhere near $10k per subscriber to build out fiber normally, even in small cities, can it?

I don't know, because I don't possess any expertise in the matter. What I do have is a history of watching public works projects budgets balloon completely out of control. It seems far more likely, given history, that this estimate is low.

> It seems far more likely, given history, that this estimate is low.

Which history do you mean? A lot of people have fiber to their house, that’s part of history.

If the cost has ballooned out of control, why? Costs don’t have to do that, and they haven’t always done that historically.

Costs in Boulder are quite a bit higher than other cities because we have very little to no topsoil in areas, you hit bedrock (which is often granite) immediately, and you need to drill or blast that out for most underground construction.

At least that was the line Google fed us when we got rejected for their fiber, who knows.

I have not studied the whole Boulder area in detail, but as a PhD Geologist and having visited friends in Boulder that have added a basement to their house, I'd say you might have been fed some misinformation. Maybe little topsoil but lots of glacial till. They might be right about digging being expense though. Glacial till can be full of huge boulders that are hard to trench.

There are a couple areas where there is tons of topsoil sure, like in South Boulder I think many houses have basements, but as soon as you get out west or north you'll see all granite. Being a geologist I'm guessing you know the wide range of formations and different geologic timeframes we have across the span of like two miles.

I live on glacial till, can confirm it's a huge pain to dig through, just in my own backyard. Drilling holes for anchors, I spend more time prying fist sized rocks than drilling. Which is incredibly difficult in a four foot deep, ten inch wide hole.

I heard on the grapevine that the real reason was that city council tried to hold the new campus hostage as a bargaining chip (nice campus you have there, it'd be a shame if the property was re-assessed and greatly increased your tax burden) but Google was having none of it and pulled the plug then and there.

That could explain it. My fiber comes in from an above-ground wire strung on poles. They’re proposing to bury the lines, at high cost?

poles are uncommon in residential areas here, everything is buried. and digging is expensive.

It seems dumb that poles are uncommon in an area with little topsoil over a granite substrate? Why so fancy? Incidentally this could mean that the trailer parks are cheaper to serve than swankier neighborhoods; there are lots of poles in trailer parks.

winter storms and strong winds. i've never lost power in the boulder area, except when a substation failed, regardless of the weather. when i lived in areas with overhead lines, power loss was a regular event, occurring during winds that would be considered mild in boulder.

Regularly trimming trees around the power line seems less expensive than boring through granite? The frequency of storm-related outages is a good proxy for how much the power company is spending on vegetation removal.

> Regularly trimming trees around the power line seems less expensive than boring through granite?

That's not going to do anything to stop ice from forming on the lines, which is a far bigger problem in the winter than tree falls.

The front range gets 100mph+ chinook winds, and late spring storms dump feet of heavy snow leading to what we affectionately call "treemageddon", during which town will be filled with the thunder of trees crashing down for hours and hours. It's not an ideal environment for lines on poles.

It's quite a battle as we also get gale force winds coming off of the mountains so often that it's not news, just a normal Tuesday.

It's Boulder, houses are getting close to California levels. The cheapest starter homes are around $700k.

FWIW, the market appears to have cooled down a bit this spring. It remains to be seen whether that's a blip or a trend.

there are at least 3 trailer parks in boulder, maybe more. i wonder how prices in them have changed over the years? :)

A single wide is about $300k, but there's a five year waiting list.

at least in newer developments, my understanding is most underground channels (think sewers) generally provide some facility for running new lines/equipment in them, to reduce the number of times that city streets need to be dug up to lay x,y or z.

I work for an ISP, typical cost for just labor + materials for fiber is $10k per mi., labor being the majority of the cost. I live in the midwest and fiber techs start getting paid around $25 per hour and it can take a crew of 2-3 guys for a few hours per household which if you have in-house guys isn't as much but if you're contracting it out can inflate cost 2-3x. That's if you don't have to make the run down the street and live close to a node.

That quarter below the poverty line is probably a little misleading in the way it's calculated.

Students there are all living off parent money so their disposable income is much higher than hard data would suggest.

Does all this math include building out the call center, technician and customer support, field cars, and on going maintenance? Building it is one thing, maintaining it; not just the cable but the hubs and data center; plus staffing with all be costs to be accounted for. Throw in do they need to subsidize or provide computers for the low income residents as well.

It isn't just lack of availability of internet that keeps low income out its the lack of devices to make use of the internet and rudimentary training.

we don't really care how much sewer or electrical connection cost. It is just a must-have utility connection, even though we know that it is possible, at least for some time, to live without it. The municipal fiber is the same. Not everybody looks at it this way today - like not everybody 300+ years ago saw why municipal sewer is necessary.

these are great stats.

I live in Chattanooga.

I know 3 residential users of gigabit fiber. (I'm not 1. 100 is perfect).

Don't get me wrong. The "gig" here has made a major impact. My company is based here and the change in volume/quality of startups from 7 years ago to now is staggering.

But... I'm not sure why Boulder needs this.

What is the expected lifetime of this kind of fiber infrastructure? Shouldn't the city also accumulate funds for eventual replacement?

It depends. The actual fiber is probably good for decades. But a lot of the active infrastructure requires upgrades in a 10 year or so cycle. FiOS started out in 2005 with BPON. Then they upgraded to GPON. Now they’re working on NGPON-2. This requires upgrading ONTs, (very expensive) OLTs, switches, not to mention adding capacity out from the COs to handle the additional traffic.

OLTs aren't that expensive, especially since you can potentially split the costs of each port over 128 subscribers. Obviously the total dollar costs add up when you put thousands of subscribers on one OLT, but the cost per subscriber is quite low.

NGPON-2 isn't being deployed at scale yet, so prices are still to come down, but GPON OLTs are bulk items. You can buy a GPON OLT for a few grand which ends up being a few bucks per subscriber.

Verizon upgraded to GPON in 2008, when prices were a lot higher. Back then, GPON line cards were in the $10-20k range. (And they're upgrading to NG-PON2 starting this year.) Also, their typical split is 1:16 or 1:32. So you're talking about $600+ per subscriber (maybe pushing a grand once you factor in cost new ONTs and cost of labor to install new ONTs). That's a couple of thousand dollars per subscriber over the amortization period (at least if you're hoping to keep up with the Joneses).

Your numbers are way off.

In 2006, Verizon's cost to pass a property was $850 and trending towards $700 in 2010. This includes not only the outside plant, but also the OLTs. The majority of the cost is in the outside plant, so the GPON OLTs are only a fraction of this.

Verizon deploys at scale and does not pay list prices. Furthermore Verizon would not be deploying NG-PON2 if it wasn't profitable and would definitely not be doing it if it was cutting into their margins. Therefore there is no reason to assume their NG-PON2 costs will be higher than their GPON costs.

Well, it also will likely be a huge boost to the economy, so it will pay itself back in other ways too.

Longmont (which is ~12 miles north of Boulder) got municiple broadband a while back. https://www.longmontcolorado.gov/departments/departments-e-m...

This also follows Fort Collins from 7 months ago: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/11/voters-reject-ca...

Note that Longmont took a couple attempts I believe to get it passed (it failed in 2009 and 2011, then passed in 2013)

Former Longmont resident/NextLight customer here. I can't understate how fantastic the broadband service is out there.

Usually my speeds clocked in around the 700-900mbps range (both up/down), and at its slowest, maybe 300mbps. No port blocking, so I could host my own web/game servers. The one time they performed maintenance, they notified customers a week in advance and scheduled the 15-minute down time to be around 3am. Since I was a 'charter' customer, my bill was a flat $50/mo, though I'm pretty certain that new customers don't pay much more than that.

I truly believe if more people understood what _good_ internet is like, there would be a MUCH stronger push for communal broadband services.

It doesn't have to be communal. I had Google Fiber. It cost more but was also great.

I'm in Centennial CO. We also voted in municipal fiber broadband a while back. My neighborhood is slated to get 1GB symmetric from Ting for $89


I moved from Amsterdam to Boulder, CO. The tech ecosystem is amazing here. It's crazy how many tech companies are in a tiny city with ~100k people. You just walk down the street and it's Nest, Google, Github, JumpCloud, SolidFire, Logrhythm, VictorOps and hundreds of smaller startups. Great ecosystem. People are friendly and welcoming. It's amazing, except the internet. It's expensive, unreliable, and slowwwww.

Calling it a tiny city is a bit of a stretch considering the sprawl along the entire front range (South Denver to Fort Collins). You're suddenly at 3+ million.

Yep. Having worked in Boulder for 4 years, my observation is that the number of people who actually live in town are the minority. In-college interns or new college grads tend to live in town. There is a smattering of more senior engineers in Boulder as well. But it seems most people commute in from Longmont, Erie, Louisville, Superior, Lafayette, Broomfield, Denver, or Ft. Collins. I worked with a guy who commuted from Colorado Springs (!) daily. I have no idea how he stayed sane.

I thought the person I worked with that commuted from Fort Collins to Boulder was nuts, but the Springs?!? Hopefully it was a really fulfilling job.

I used to live in Fort Collins, and had to commute from there to Englewood/Tech Center area once every couple of weeks. Even that infrequently, it made me want to die. Usually the morning drive was tolerable, a bit over an hour if there wasn't an accident. But in the evenings it could take 2-3 hours, again without an accident. And there is ALWAYS an accident on I-25. I'd end up just staying in the office til 7PM or later because I'd get home at the same time whether I left at 5 or 7 anyway. I cannot imagine doing a commute like that daily for any reason. I'd get home in such a bad mood I that didn't want to see my family, just pour a drink.

Thankfully I was able to work remote 90% of the time in that role.

I thought my coworker from Castle Rock was out there (and he did end up moving to Erie). But when you look at bay area commutes it seems reasonable. The mind boggles.

Sure, but you just described an area of approximately 2400 square miles. No one who lives and works in denver is going to be happy to start making the commute all the way to fort collins(or vice versa).

It's a very nice place. Unfortunately, they are egregiously failing to provide enough housing at reasonable prices, so they copied that bad aspect of silicon valley as well as some of the good.

can't build up, can't build out. Its a tricky problem, but we don't want to use our open spaces for development. The surrounding areas are reasonable

I think the "can't build out" thing is over-emphasized. We can't build out only in the relatively skinny band of open space around town. But there is lots of space that is / can be built on outside that band, ie. Louisville, Superior, northwest Arvada (Candelas), Gunbarrel, Niwot, Longmont. None of thee places are very far from Boulder. What we need is better public transportation. Most people drive into town, so there is lots traffic and parking is hard, which makes people want to live in town to avoid that.

yeah the transportation could definitely use some help

You can grow up, in, out, or grow the prices. Boulder has chosen the latter, meaning that more and more people drive into the town to work. Big win for the environment, there...

We were promised light rail, and even raised taxes to build it out, and then the government decided to give us a toll lane on a highway(managed by an australian company) and a bus route as a compromise. Front rangers talk a lot about environmental stewardship but from their actions I don't believe they really care about it.

amen to that

unfortunately you can grow up, because of the view and its prohibited. You could potentially grow in and there have been a lot of condos built in recent years, but part of what makes boulder nice is that its not overdeveloped. Some people would prefer to pay a premium to keep it that way.

> unfortunately you can't grow up, because of the view and its prohibited

Because they don't want to is the reason.

As a consequence, people like teachers, firefighters, police, nurses and so on can no longer afford it and must commute in to serve the landed gentry.


As a native to boulder I don't want them to. Nothing predicates you should have to live in boulder, or that the town has to be built up. Thats just a temporary solution, boulder has worked hard to keep the town nice and I appreciate that. They have done a lot of work to provide low income housing but it's a difficult task and we should continue to work on this. The workforce should be negotiating their salaries to compensate, and we should improve transportation for the surrounding areas.

Stop being a NIMBY and let the market work. If the market wants to build up let it. There will still be plenty of areas with views, you'll just have to pay more.

If you want to live that way check out Denver, sounds more up your alley

I was going to say it sounds similar to madison but that is half the population! Would you say it is oversaturated with tech?

I think the difference between the two is that Madison is further from Milwaukee. It looks to be around 80 miles between Madison and Milwaukee. Denver and Boulder are much closer, about 30 miles.

How do you like it in Boulder ? (Question for others as well).

Boulder has a population of about 110,000 people [1]. Given "the estimated cost of the entire network is around $140 million" [2], the per-capita cost of this network comes to $1,300.

I pay $80 a month for my 300 / 20 service. In 16 months, I would be able to pay for my share of this network.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boulder,_Colorado

[2] http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_31941127/public-s...

As Rayiner commented elsewhere in the thread [1] Boulder has a population of 40,000 households, which is the appropriate metric to use when people within a household regularly share a connection. It gets more expensive when you consider non-subscribing households, subsidized households, and operating costs. Payback periods quickly climb to 10-20 years or more, depending on how you do your math.

However, I think it should also be considered that a municipal broadband network adds value to a city in much the same way that a road network, electric grid, natural gas, or water/sewer network adds value. For a point of contrast, the city contains ~300 miles of roads at ~$5 million per mile, or a road network value of $1.5 billion dollars. That's about $40,000 per household! Other utilities have huge costs as well.

I believe that Internet access is becoming as important as transportation, water, and electric service for the economic health of a city.


Kinda makes it sound like they've got too much road. Property taxes are only a thousand or three per single family household, I believe.

The point I was trying to make is that utilities and infrastructure don't add up in ways that make budget decisions simple or that seem sensible when viewed from a simple calculation of total cost divided by number of households. If we did that same calculation for other utilities, we would not have many utilities at all!

Honestly, I'm not really sure how it's all paid for at the end of the day.

I think it's also important to amortize construction costs over the useful life of the infrastructure, not just how long it takes to pay back the loan.

That $40k of road is only $800/year over 50 years. (And I doubt all of it was even originally as expensive as your estimate, especially considering cost of land, which was closer to zero before there was a road there).

Of course, maintenance costs have to be counted, too, and in the case of fiber, it would, instead, be eventual upgrades.

It sure doesn’t seem that way :). Traffic in Boulder has gotten significantly more annoying over the last several years.

Perhaps too much road infrastructure has induced traffic?


I only visit Boulder, so I'm not positive, but it seems to me that they have tons of people coming in from the suburbs. Most of the people inside of Boulder, in my experience, tend to ride bikes and/or take public transit, but you need a car to get to some trails and you need a car to get into Boulder as a resident of the surrounding areas (or at least most people do).

Yes, a good majority of people who work within Boulder live outside of the city proper. The price of living is too high for many people, especially service industry folks. Public transportation isn't bad, but it's not great. We were recently promised a commuter train line from Denver, and were given the ol' switcheroo and instead the bus system was expanded.

I do not know of any trails you would absolutely need a car to get to. One of the more popular places to start a hike, Chautauqua, actually started a very expensive paid parking program to get people to stop driving there (parking is limited, complaints from residents over noise), and instead take the free shuttle from city center.

Anyways, my home internet is absolute garbage (I'm just west of HW36, so outside of the city by a block). My speed is 5.05 Mbps down, 0.47 up and there's no alternatives to Century Link in my area. I might as well use a cellular network.

You're lucky you have the cell network option :). I have similar speeds through a WISP but no cell signal.

Cell. is actually about 3x faster in a quick test, but latency is also about 3x as bad. In general though, cell isn't that great of an option full time, if you go anywhere, say a quarter of a mile west of where I am, as you'll be in the mountains with poor service.

It's just whatever the local subnet is for my neighborhood. Across the street, the DSL is much better.

That's the explicit strategy of the "slow growth" crowd running city council.

Nailed it.

The math is bleaker than that (see my other post, calculating $7,000 per subscribing household).

Also, out of the $80 you pay, most of it gets eaten up by operational costs. Charter's EBITDA is about 35% of revenues. So even if the city pays no taxes., it'll take 250 months to pay back your share of the network.

This is precisely the kind of long term investment that cities should make.

That's twenty years. There is a decent chance that mainstream high speed Internet will be wireless in 20 years.

Wireless has been perpetually behind star topology wired networks despite the fact that it tends to be much easier to upgrade a few antenna's and radios around a city then make people buy new modems every couple years. Worse, wireless is really spotty, I can barely get a data connection where I work and at my house with my carrier, much less a few Mbit/sec. Like WiFi, the advertised peek rates tend to be far in excess of what your likely to get most of the time.

Optical communication is the same way, there is massive bandwidth that isn't being used, so while it might roll out at 1Gbit, it wouldn't' surprise me that in 20 years a x8 stranded fiber network would be well into the Tbit/sec rate.

I think you are significantly underestimating just how long a timespan we're talking about here. Twenty years is a very long time. Twenty years back predates 802.11b. In 1998, our houses and apartments were all wired up with cat5. In San Francisco, at the time, we were thrilled to have Ricochet modems that asymptotically approached ISDN BRI speeds (for that matter, we were generally pretty thrilled to get ISDN BRI speeds to our apartments to begin with).

You don't have to expect breakthroughs to think digging new trenches might be a mistake; all you have to believe is that wireless network performance will continue roughly along the trends it's already been following.

But wired speeds are getting faster too, you need only compare your ISDN modem, with what is possible with DOCSIS 3.1. I used CDPD (early cell phone data service) in the late '90's and that was 19.2 kbit/s which was actually at least in the same ballpark as the POTs modems. So its not like wireless is getting massivly faster and copper has hit a wall. It seems that faster DSP's also help wired communications mechanisms..

There is a clear and obvious point of diminishing returns, which you can see from the fact that to a pretty good first approximation nobody uses wired connections to connect their computers to the Internet; everyone uses 802.11. Yes: wired connections will be faster. But past a threshold, it doesn't matter, and the ease and lower cost of deployment will win out.

There is also a decent chance that it won't be. We (in Boulder) have this same "should we continue the status quo in the present because better technology may be widely deployed in the future?" debate with public transportation vs. self-driving cars / hyperloop / whatever and municipal power infrastructure vs. solar + storage. It's always a tricky question (and I don't come down on the same side in each of those debates).

If the network has been paid back then it's a non issue. Wireless broadband has a host of issues and fiber makes it's adoption less pressing. Sure, if it rolls out in 15 years then the city might be out some capital, but it also gets 15 years use from that fiber network. So, unless it's coming in the next 5-10 years it's probably not worth considering.

It's coming in the next 5 years. AT&T and Verizon are already buying up the necessary spectrum and running trials with working hardware. There will be no point trenching fiber through everyone's yards when you can build a 5G cell in each subdivision for far less money.

I'll believe it when I see it. I don't mean that sarcastically, I mean it literally: when a few competitors appear to own sufficient spectrum, and trials with working hardware have been completed, I will believe it. Until then, I'm happy to pay some sales tax to improve existing well-understood but (in my opinion) under-deployed technology.

That would be awesome, and would have been awesome 10 years ago, but FCC have been successfully fighting against this for a long time so we can't make assumptions. Regardless, fiber will always have more bandwidth than radio, and we'll always need more bandwidth.

Agreed. Invest heavily in WISP technology if possible. Running fiber through bedrock sounds ridiculous.

That wireless still has to connect to a wire at some point.

A huge fraction of the cost of FTTH networks is last mile fiber delivery.

I agree with you, but governments will ask: is it better to back an expensive technology, or a cheaper one like wireless? Is it the government's responsibility to provide the state-of-the-art. or the minimum viable?

I'd prefer it if us Americans would believe in the former, but unfortunately I think our culture expects the government to do the latter (or nothing at all).

I enjoy the state of the art sewer system in my city. It keeps the brown stuff contained and properly disposed of. And it cost billions, with a 100 year replacement cycle that is constantly in progress.

I’m really glad that my sewer system isn’t expected to handle 1000 times the traffic it did 20 years ago.

It's entirely possible that within a year or two, it won't be state of the art at all, if the hype around 5g wireless speeds and bandwidth are to be believed.

Spending a significant amount of money on something that requires a significant install and maintenance (trenching bedrock, cut lines) when there are potential solutions just around the corner seems to me like bad policy.

I'm sure that there are other, more effective uses the government could put that money towards. Maybe the most efficient and beneficial thing for Boulder would be to not take on more debt, I don't know. Just don't be too quick to assume that all expenses and public works projects are net positives.

How does that 250 months number change if you bake in a 2%/year price increase to account for inflation?

Probably should be paid for relative to annual income, but yeah, seems like a reasonable expense.

Once it’s paid off, what is the maintience cost?

Will the city simply offer it as a competing service? Make it free for everyone and then tax?

Then there is cost of operating this network.

Repaid with 20 year dept. See the article and my other comment.

The bigger picture is Boulder is attracting startups.

Having fiber broadband is a plus to that attraction. So a better broadband means a better economy: more activity, more jobs, more people, more taxes... The cost of that infrastructure makes total sense.

yeah I think they are less concerned with the cost/practicality and more focused on image. With Google increasing its presence this is just another move to paint us as a startup hub. I'm all about it

I works really like one of these projects to trial a 'practical' last mile, like something like cat6 for the last 100m.

In KC, I live in a 4 story apt, and frequently stopped to talk to the installers when Google fiber was pulling everything into the building. It really is Fiber to a jack in your unit, but the last 5ft is still copper Ethernet. I figure they could have saved themselves a bundle of $ if they ran copper inside the building. The consumer wouldn't notice and it's a lot more practical.

Using cat6 would mean you've just invested in the next 5 years, 10 Max before that all has to be ripped out. By going fiber to the last 5ft, you theoretically can use the same infrastructure for the next 50 years. If they had started doing single mode fiber in the 90s, upgrading us to 10gbe would be an optic swap in a pop, not digging cable out of the ground.

> upgrading us to 10gbe would be an optic swap in a pop, not digging cable out of the ground.

This is assuming the physical glass was rated for that kind of bandwidth. Cat6a can "technically" do 10gbe

We're talking single mode fiber, not miltimode. The glass hasn't changed in 25 years.

I don't think they would have saved a bundle at all. I've no references to back this up, however - I would guess the dominant cost of installing cable (fiber or cat6 or coax) is not the cable itself, but the permits and staff hours etc required to do it.

Installing fiber is more future proof, resulting in - potentially - less costs down the line.

For all but the smallest apartment buildings, this is not a good idea. Ethernet has a 100m limit. By the time you go up a wall, back down it, zig and zag around things in the ceiling, etc, you can quickly hit that limit. Then you can start getting errors such as packet loss, crosstalk, etc.

Yes, it depends on the size and layout of your building (maybe your building has a comms cabinet on each floor, or wing, etc) but its better to have one set of training for all your installers, rather than have every one be different.

I did technician work as a side job during college. It seemed like most dorms had data closets every floor/every other floor. Some buildings only had them in the attic and basement, but they were also usually limited to 4 levels. Are most large apartment buildings similar?

Does it really matter if there are comms closets nearby though?

It wouldn't surprise me if fiber optic cable was cheaper than cat6 to buy in bulk (Copper is expensive, and the process to manufacture the copper cables is more complex), and if you're doing fiber to the building anyway, you still end up with a media converter - so there is likely no significant cost saving there either.

It may actually be higher cost to have a centralised (within the building) media converter - ports need to be provisioned for the max possible customers up front. The class of hardware will likely be different too - matching enterprise style datacenter hardware, instead of the cheap and easy to replace stuff they send to customers...

This was 10 years ago, but the data closets had SFPs on the switches for the fiber. So the cost of the "media converter" was really low - just needed a few. There was existing CAT5 in the walls, all of the runs would be well less than 100 m which is why I brought up the comm closets. For a new builds, I have no idea for the cost difference. But for the insane number of buildings wired with CAT5/CAT5e/CAT6, this solution works well. Trying to pull fiber to replace CAT5 (as in without removing the drywall) would be very expensive and likely to damage the fiber.

The downside is that you then need to give your subscribers modems. The dorms in my university town have Ethernet in them, and it's a hook-up-your-own-device type of deal.

With the cost of copper rising, who knows, maybe fiber isn't all that much more expensive, at least when you're buying a lot of it.

Realistically, Google is rethinking Fiber for a wireless solution;

Wireless cuts down on the fiber, copper, and individual install costs -- and is therefore cheaper to upgrade in the future; A mesh network with a node near every door and if you need more coverage you add more nodes.

Once in a while a story about another city getting fiber, while it's fantastic (without knowing much about the cost), progress is slow and even in the heart of the Bay Area, we are pathetically lagging. https://fiber.google.com/newcities/ is looking sparse and honestly worrisome. It's amazing how much the US is behind implementing another solution they invented.

That's bad, but also interesting that you can have the world's main tech region without much fiber to home. Maybe fiber isn't really that important.

> Maybe fiber isn't really that important.

My gut feeling is that it is, but the current monopolies providing alternatives just haven't ruined the experience enough for this to be pursued heavily by people with deep pockets

What did Japan do with their vast broadband lead (which has now eroded entirely)? How did that dramatically benefit their economy? It didn't revolutionize their tech output, it didn't jump start their moribund economy.

Finland has been among the ten fastest nations in regards to broadband speeds for a long time. That didn't do much for their economy as it languished in a near ten year recession. It didn't spur an epic tech buildout, it didn't help them keep pace with what Sweden has accomplished for example, with the two nations having similar broadband speeds.

France has lagged extremely far behind in broadband, for two decades. They're among the worst in Europe at it. Does that mean their economy is doomed? They're well below Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, and Russia in Europe regarding broadband. And yet there's Bulgaria, with a GDP per capita 1/6th that of France, and an economy that hasn't net expanded in ten years (off that much smaller per capita economic base, with far better broadband, you'd expect to see dramatic growth results, and yet there are none).

I think some healthy skepticism is warranted on the top end value proposition. Perhaps if you're down toward the bottom as in the case of France (in Europe), you do indeed suffer a meaningful penalty. Much of Latin America for example has very slow average Internet access speeds, I think that sort of outcome does harm their development potential. While common access to something like 50-100mbps cable may accomplish everything that 1gbps fiber does at this juncture for consumers and general economic development.

Maybe that will change soon, such that FTTH becomes invaluable to get ahead economically, there's practically no evidence that it matters currently or has mattered much the last ten years. I like the idea of muni fiber programs, more competition, and universal access to 1gbps to the home; and yet I've never seen any evidence that the high cost of rapidly building that out is justified (vs gradually over time).

Of course it doesn't matter economically - when only a tiny fraction of a potential userbase has anything approaching gige to the home there is going to be zero application development based on those requirements.

You may be entirely correct that "150mbps is good enough for anyone" - but based on watching capabilities grow with data speeds the past 35 years I'd bet heavily in the opposite direction. If 50% of Internet users in the US had uncapped gige I think you'd see some rather interesting tech start using it once they can rely on it.

> If 50% of Internet users in the US had uncapped gige I think you'd see some rather interesting tech start using it once they can rely on it.

and yet nobody ever has the faintest idea what would be done with it, despite the fact that every office building has been internally wired for gigabit ethernet (or faster!) for >10 years. what is anyone doing at work with it? what is anyone doing across large corporate campuses like google's or facebook's with all their internal bandwidth?

Com... cough cough, cast! That's an interesting theory and discussion topic. I was just wondering today what are my options about switching to a better ISP with all this net neutrality gone by the window and Comcast asking me to return my old router to get a new one so they can throttle me better?

10-15 years ago, fiber to the home (FTTH) was hugely important because it was massively faster than cable (maybe two orders of magnitude) or DSL (three orders of magnitude).

Nowadays cable is almost as fast. The same physical cable to my neighborhood that offered plans of up to 10 Mb/s 10 years ago is now giving me 500 Mb/s on my current plan, and it looks like 1000 Mb/s is available if I switch to a bundle that includes Comcast's home security service.

Faster home internet has diminishing returns. With a 150 Mb/s service, you can have two parents and three kids each streaming a different 4k movie at the same time. You can download 67 GB of data in an hour.

For most families the only time they will notice a difference between 150 Mb/s and gigabit is when someone needs to download a large file, such as when someone buys a major new game. An hour download at 150 Mb/s becomes under 10 minutes in gigabit. For most that only happens occasionally.

The last couple of times that Comcast has raised my internet speed without changing my plan or cost, I've seriously considered dropping down to a less expensive plan that has my old speed. The only thing that stops me is that I have an internet/TV/phone bundle, and the bundles with my old speeds have smaller TV packages too, which are missing some of my most watched channels.

It seems pretty clear municipal fiber is a reaction to poor quality of service, absent competition, and high pricing from the private copper, rather than a vital technological advancement.

Though Longmont residents tell me it is fast. Really fast.

Fiber is important, but few are making long term investment to break current low quality monopolies that don't care about pulling fiber.

> It's amazing how much the US is behind implementing another solution they invented

America is vast. My opinion is local FTTH networks will eventually be interconnected wirelessly, either point-to-point or by bouncing off LEO satellites. Sometimes, letting infrastructure roll out organically is the sounder solution.

The "America USA too big for fast internet," argument would hold a lot more water if our densely populated cities were shining bastions of broadband. As it happens, our cities have some of the shittiest internet available.

I understand vast. I am not expecting Montana to get full coverage by the end of the decade. But San Jose, California? Hello?

> But San Jose, California? Hello?

It routinely blows me away that my Manhattan internet is faster and cheaper than that at my parents' in Cupertino. I suspect common local political dysfunction underwrites the differences in housing supply, public transportation and internet quality.

Manhattan is far denser than Cupertino. It’s easier to justify the investment there.

But yeah, I was surprised to learn that my options in Mountain View were shitty, expensive cable or shitty, slightly less expensive DSL.

Only in the right parts of Manhattan. I live on 78th street between 1st & York (0th) avenues. I am in a one square block fiber dead zone. :(

Why bother interconnecting wirelessly? Long haul fiber is not generally the expense part. Most places already have fiber interconnects for whatever service is available.

Only the true boonies with no “fast” service don’t have fiber interconnects, and they probably aren’t dense enough for a local fiber network to make sense either.

Fits right in with the bigger NIMBY picture.

Also, from visiting the Bay Area, it's my opinion there's an overarching complete lack of investment in public infrastructure. It's not due to lack of money in the area; witness the countless exotic cars, bouncing down what I consider some of the worst pavement anywhere.

and in some areas of Palo Alto (ghm!) we can't event get fiber. across the street, yes. talk about the power of monopoly...

I work in downtown Boulder in a tech startup. The tech and startup scene is amazing for a city the size of Boulder. After Longmont and Fort Collins, finally Boulder will be getting the municipal broadband as well. Nice!!!

I'd just like to point out that Fort Collins voted in municipal fiber, but it has yet to be implemented as Comcast and I assume other telecoms have been pushing back and delaying the roll out. We had to re-vote on it last year to approve more money for the project.

I live in Fort Collins - bonds are being sold, and everything is going forward. In theory, the first customers should be on Mid to late next year.

Neighboring Longmont has had municipal internet for years with success. Everyone I know is pretty happy with it. Glad to see Boulder is joining the party.

Although I don’t live in Boulder (anymore), my office is there. I’ll be glad to stop paying Comcast for terrible quality service.

I have municipal telecom where I live in Vermont and it waaaaay faster and cheaper than the competition. It makes Comcast look like a joke. Hopefully, Boulder will have a similar outcome.

Burlington Telecom for the win!

What type of software engineering jobs are available in that area?

Pretty much anything you can imagine from front-end web to embedded circuits. Thing to keep in mind with Boulder is that it suffers from the same building restriction effects as SF, combined with explosive population growth, so you're going to pay out the nose for every square foot of living space. As long as you build that fact into your salary negotations Boulder is going to be awesome with a quality of life eons better than the coasts IMO.

I live in Colorado Springs for family reasons but would happily live in Boulder if things were a bit different.

Good to know. I literally do everything from HW comms to web UI to push all that data to the cloud. HW comms and protocols are where I'm best. Happy where I'm at but always looking just in case.

Been to Colorado Springs. It is a nice area.

Qualcomm has about 300 people in north Boulder.

if you're all excited about the fiber, then better question is what jobs are available that pay enough to live inside the city limits?

property isn't as expensive as SF, but the pay isn't SF either. a sibling comment mentions all the university/government positions, but starting salaries there don't pay to live in boulder. of all my fulltime coworkers at the university, i was the only one with a boulder address, and i still wasn't inside the city. (the students were usually inside the city, since they were paying for it with loans, and living in shithole apartments.)

Google, Amazon and Uber recruiters in the area are all pestering me. Twitter, Intel, Cray and nVidia are here. Microsoft seems to come and go? Lockheed, Ball, Oracle, NetApp, Workday, Workiva, and The Trade Desk always have job openings.

Tons, salaries are growing quickly as well. Comparable to NYC and higher than almost anywhere in the US. Just not at the SF levels yet.

Lots of web stuff, some big security players, a lot of government and academic research (NOAA/NIST/CU etc) data sciencey type jobs too.

Considering all the mergers that are going down I hope that eventually more cities follow this model.

I've had Verizon FiOS fiber and it was just as bad as when I had terrible Comcast. Now I have Comcast in a different neighborhood and it's great.

Personally, availability/stability is WAY more important than bandwidth. I don't know what I'd do with over 200mbps. But in some of the places I lived, during peak hours, the internet would just stop working. That was very frustrating.

The article mentions that ~5% of residences don't have internet, but I would wager the majority of those do have smartphones and can easily access the internet via cell data, coffee shops, public outdoor wifi, etc. Is it really that much of a travesty if it's hard to stream movies on your couch?

Municipal control of infrastructure +1

Agreed, and not just for fast internet. This is the path to true, competition-enforced net neutrality. It would be so much better to have municipal infrastructure than to have digital rights ping-ponging in the federal government forever.

I sure hope they don't need to open up roads(lane closures) to pull the fiber. Traffic is already agonizing, closures would make the commuting nightmare even worse for cars, buses & bikes alike.

Hopefully they're laying conduit with new road construction. I read somewhere that there are proposals to mandate that (can't remember if it was state or federal level).

Edit: seems like it's both:





AFAIK in Germany you are required to allow others to lay stuff in the hole if you dig the street up. So if fiber is not placed in there, that means no one is willing to pay for just the fiber, which is only a little part of the cost of doing full FTTH. Oh well, if the distance was more than the 5 or so meters recently in the neighborhood, I might have considered just placing an empty pipe with fan-out/splice boxes at the ends into the hole. But for just 5m it's hardly worth the effort.

I am in boulder and can't wait, comcast fucking sucks, they just raised my rates from $79 to ~$120 with no warning, i hate them so much...

It wasn't because you started on a promotion deal and the deal ran out?

Now all your information can go through government-ran hubs!

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