A municipal broadband service in Fort Collins, Colorado went live for new customers today, less than two years after the city’s voters approved the network despite a cable industry-led campaign against it.
“Finally, a broadband provider you can trust,” the city-run broadband service’s website says in a pointed message about the Comcast cable and CenturyLink DSL services that are the city’s primary broadband networks.
Fort Collins Connexion, the new fiber-to-the-home municipal option, costs $59.95 a month for 1Gbps download and 1Gbps upload speeds, with no data caps, contracts, or installation fees. There’s a $15 monthly add-on fee to cover Wi-Fi, but customers can avoid that fee by purchasing their own router. Fort Collins Connexion also offers home phone service, and it plans to add TV service later on.
Connexion is only available in a small portion of the city right now.
“The initial number of homes we’re targeting this week is 20-30. We will notify new homes weekly, slowly ramping up in volume,” Connexion spokesperson Erin Shanley told Ars. While Connexion’s fiber lines currently pass just a small percentage of the city’s homes and businesses, Shanley said the city’s plan is to build out to the city limits within two or three years.
“Ideally we will capture more than 50% of the market share, similar to Longmont,” another Colorado city that built its own network, Shanley said. Beta testers at seven homes are already using the Fort Collins service, and the plan is to start notifying potential customers about service availability today.
The city reportedly issued $143 million in bonds to finance the city-wide network. Fort Collins has a population of 165,000.
In November 2017, voters in Fort Collins approved a ballot question that authorized the city to build the broadband network.
The Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association (CCTA), of which Comcast is a member, donated $815,000 toward a campaign against the ballot initiative. The Chamber of Commerce also opposed the plan. Comcast didn’t participate in the campaign publicly, but the company would have been the main beneficiary of a vote against the municipal option.
In all, the industry-led opposition spent more than $900,000 fighting the ballot question, while the pro-broadband group led by residents spent about $15,000.
Before the election, a study by a pro-municipal broadband group estimated that “Competition in Fort Collins would cost Comcast between $5.4 million and $22.8 million per year.”
Net neutrality, competitive prices
Fort Collins Connexion promises to follow net neutrality principles, saying it will not “intentionally block, slow down, or charge money for specific websites and online content.”
The municipal ISP’s privacy pledge says that it does not “share, distribute, or sell a User’s specific Internet usage history, call history, voicemail, or other electronic data generated from a User’s Internet and phone Service to any external third party.”
Connexion’s website is advertising only two residential Internet packages, the $59.95 gigabit plan and a 10Gbps plan for $299.95 a month. Shanley told Ars that “there are no taxes and fees on Internet service,” aside from the optional $15 charge to use city-provided Wi-Fi hardware instead of a customer-purchase router.
Connexion offers a gigabit Internet and phone service bundle for $74.90 a month. Phone service on its own starts at $19.95 a month. When TV service is available, there will be an Internet and TV bundle for $119.90 a month, and a bundle of all three services starts at $144.85.
Connexion’s prices are competitive. Looking at Comcast’s website for offers in Fort Collins today, we found a $60 monthly price for download speeds of up to 400Mbps, and $70 a month for 1Gbps. But those Comcast prices are only good for two years and would automatically rise after the promotional period. Comcast charges early termination fees, and the company says that equipment fees, taxes, other fees, and “applicable charges” may be added to the advertised price. Comcast’s modem/router gateway costs $13 a month.
Besides that, Comcast’s cable upload speeds are a fraction of download speeds, and Comcast enforces a 1TB monthly data cap in Colorado and many other states. Comcast charges $10 for each additional block of 50GB used after a customer hits 1TB, or $50 extra per month for unlimited data.
Comcast potentially offers lower prices than Connexion for lower-speed plans, but even then it’s hard to do better than the city-run option. We found an offer in Fort Collins of 60Mbps download speeds for $29.99 a month from Comcast, but the price rises to at least $59.95 after a year. Another offer for 15Mbps download speeds has the same $29.99 monthly price for the first year, and rises to 51.95 afterward.
But again, these advertised prices don’t include extra taxes and fees, data cap charges, and the mental cost of dealing with Comcast’s customer service. Comcast may also charge installation fees of up to $90 depending on which package you buy.
Although Connexion is only available to a small portion of Fort Collins so far, residents who advocated for the network are excited that it’s now a reality.
“All in all, it’s remarkably neat to see this all come to fruition after our four-year journey with all of its ups and downs,” Colin Garfield of the Fort Collins Citizens Broadband Committee told Ars. “It’s my hope that other communities across the country will be inspired by the muni fiber hotbed that is now northern Colorado (Fort Collins, Loveland, Estes Park, Longmont). I’m excited to use my newfound gig speed to cancel Comcast.”