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Fort Collins, Colo., Will Create Broadband Utility, 'Committed' To Net Neutrality

The city of Fort Collins, Colo., will build a system to deliver "high speed next-generation broadband to the entire community," after its City Council enacted a ballot initiative that voters approved in November. The move comes despite resistance from cable and telecom companies.

The city will become an Internet service provider and provide broadband as a utility, building out its own infrastructure — a plan that it approved up to $150 million in bonds and debt to accomplish. It expects to pay off that amount within 14 years of service.

The council approved the plan this week, in its first session of the new year. The vote was a unanimous 7-0; it came two months after nearly 60 percent of voters embraced the broadband plan. Opponents of the new utility service spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ad campaigns to fight it, through a group called Priorities First Fort Collins.

Foes of the plan had included Internet providers Comcast and CenturyLink, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is in favor of municipal and public networks.

Fort Collins' broadband could begin serving its first customers within two years; the city says the full network would likely take three to four years to complete. It is issuing requests for proposals for companies to submit their bids to engineer, equip and market the new utility.

On its webpage devoted to the broadband project, Fort Collins says that the city "is committed to the principles of Net Neutrality," adding, "The City Broadband Plan does not call for any restrictions on access including uploads, downloads, delivery methods or providers (email, Skype, Netflix, etc.)."

The broadband plan is going ahead despite a Colorado law that prohibits local governments from creating broadband networks; Fort Collins voters overrode that law in 2015. In November, 19 more Colorado cities and counties voted to opt out of the law — joining around 100 others in the state, The Denver Post reported.

"The city hopes to offer 1 gigabit-per-second speed for uploads and downloads," the Coloradoan reported in November. Projected pricing for residential customers is $70 per month for 1gbps and $50 for 50 mbps."

Fort Collins had initially taken up the idea of an improved broadband network back in 2010, when it teamed up with Colorado State University to apply for the Google Fiber challenge. After Google did not choose the city for the program, it incorporated the ideas into its strategic plan.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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