Adding the foundation for a new utility is risky, but city officials are betting the move will pay off in the long run as more consumers demand faster and more reliable Internet service.
Last week, the Cortez City Council voted unanimously for Mayor Karen Sheek to sign a grant agreement with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for Phase II of the city’s fiber expansion project. Funded by federal mineral lease proceeds, the $1 million grant requires a $1 million match from the city.
At a subsequent budget workshop after the vote to sign the agreement, some council members expressed doubts about the city investing so much money into an unproven utility. City Manager Shane Hale indicated that the city might not recuperate its initial investment until 2017.
“There is a risk,” Hale said of the investment.
Hale predicted that the city would look back 15 years from now, and say, “Whew, I’m glad we did this.”
To quell concerns from her peers, Sheek said she believes fiber could attract high-tech, clean industries that could propel the area’s economic development into the 21st Century. Hale previously shared the same sentiment when the grant announcement was first made.
“Fiber optics could allow entrepreneurs to operate world-class businesses from right here in Cortez,” said Hale.
Providing advanced digital communication capabilities, fiber optics could one day be heralded by civilization to be as important as indoor plumbing, Hale said.
The city’s planned investment of $1 million in 2015 would add an additional 27 miles of fiber optic lines to its current infrastructure. There’s a 30-week delivery date before the lines could be installed.
Once in place, some 400 additional business owners would be allowed to tap into the service. In Phase I, some 650 businesses were capable of utilizing city fiber lines, but only about 250 of those took advantage.
While waiting for the fiber optic lines to be delivered, city officials are planning to develop a revenue model for the new utility as well as better market the service to local businesses.
The city made a conscious effort to spur the local economy via fiber optic capabilities starting in 1999, linking local anchor institutions such as government buildings, schools and the hospital.
“Just because we live here in rural Cortez, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have access to affordable broadband,” said city general services director Rick Smith. “It’s a necessity in today’s digital age.”
Phase II of the city’s plan will complete installation of fiber optic lines along U.S. 160 and Colorado 149. The final piece of the puzzle would be servicing residential areas.
“It would probably take more than $10 million to finish out the entire city,” Smith said. “That could take at least five years, but we have a roadmap. We have a plan.”
Long, thin strands of pure glass arranged in bundles called fiber optics, the cables transmit communications via light signals over long distances. Compared with conventional copper wire, optical fibers are cheaper and more efficient; transmit faster, clearer digital communications without loss of signal; and are also safer, lighter and smaller.