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Longmont road trip: See what a completely wired fiber community looks like – Longmont Daily Times

LONGMONT — Thanks to the passage of Ballot Measure 2A last November, Longmont Power Communications is free to use the city’s 17-mile fiber-optic loop as it chooses. But five months after the vote, LPC is still in the information-gathering stage, said its director, Tom Roiniotis.

So far, the biggest use of the fiber has been to turn the former J.C. Penney building into a wi-fi hotspot during a youth job fair held there March 8.

“Prior to 2A passing, you know, we couldn’t do that,” Roiniotis said. “We’d be breaking the law.”

Whatever LPC decides to do with the fiber — whether it will partner with a private company to provide a lightning-fast fiber connection to homes and businesses, whether it will offer the

connectivity itself, or whether anything at all will be done with the newfound freedom to access the fiber — remains to be seen, Roiniotis said, adding, “We want to be careful. We want to do it right.”

The city installed its fiber-optic loop in 1997. A state law passed in the middle of the last decade forbade communities from providing telecom services to residents and businesses, however. Some organizations, such as the city, the St. Vrain Valley School District and Longmont United Hospital, were already using the fiber and were grandfathered in, but the law said that the only way to overturn it was by a vote of residents.

It took two tries at the ballot box before voters finally said yes, last November, with about 61 percent

voting to approve. In both elections — the first time, in 2009, the measure failed — opponents spent record amounts of money for a Longmont election to convince voters to say no. The spending charge was led by a telecommunications industry trade group.

November’s vote allows Longmont to join other cities around the country that have fiber optic capability, Roiniotis said.

“We’re talking to other communities,” Roiniotis said. “Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to travel to

Chattanooga, Tenn., and find out what they have been doing.”

One of the things that city is doing is providing all of its 178,000 households with a fiber connection if they want it. Technically, it’s Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board that handles the fiber. But like Longmont Power Communications, the Electric Power Board, even though it’s owned by the city, acts as its own entity.

“They opened (the fiber) up,” said Mark Keil, the chief information officer for the city of Chattanooga. “It completely covers, I think, a nine-county region. It’s not just the city.

“They have a standard rate — pretty good rate. It’s very competitive.”

Keil said that the Electric Power Board started off providing telecommunications

services for businesses, but fought for and got legal clearance to become a provider of all telecommunication services, including television, to every resident and business in the city.

That clearance did not come without stiff opposition from several incumbent providers, Keil said.

“Absolutely, because they not only took on telecom, which was the ATTs, but they also faced it from the TV folks because they were going to be offering television services,” he said.

Using fiber as the backbone, Chattanooga then built a citywide wireless network. Connecting the city’s streetlights to that network has resulted in an 80 percent power savings, Keil said.

“(We’re) sending data back and forth at a lower cost,” he said.

“It’s almost mind-boggling what we can do now. Not just the city, but every business.”

Keil said he credits the Electric Power Board and its business plan for the success of the fiber network. It’s only a couple of years old, but already Amazon has picked Chattanooga for a huge new distribution facility, he said.

A strong indication of the Power Board’s success, Keil said, is when he drives down the street and sees a billboard from a local cable TV provider offering free HBO to new subscribers.

“People are getting HBO from the Power Board but they’re not giving it away,” Keil said.

Whatever Longmont Power decides to do with its fiber will have to be approved by the Longmont City Council, Roiniotis said, and he

expected to go before that body in the next couple of months to get its thoughts. But the success of wi-fi at the job fair has inspired other ideas, such as offering free wireless service at community events, such as Rhythm on the River. Not only could the public use it but staffers working the festival could also take advantage of it, he said.

He said Longmont Power is also looking into possibly leasing bandwidth from the fiber to businesses.

“We’ve been leasing dark fiber,” Roiniotis said. “The problem is not everybody needs an entire fiber, or has the ability to light that fiber.”

One of the things that’s not even in the discussion phase, he said, is offering fiber connectivity to every home in Longmont. He said whether that would ever happen would be a policy decision by the City Council.

The Longmont Area Economic Council formally supported Ballot Measure 2A last year. President and CEO John Cody said he thinks passage of the measure could have some benefit but he’s waiting to see what the city decides to do with it. In the meantime, he said, his organization supported it just as it has an industrial rail park in Longmont and the extension of the Vance Brand Airport runway — it’s just another tool he can use for recruiting and retaining primary employers.

“None of these things, in and of themselves, are huge, but together they provide a community infrastructure that allows you to be more competitive,” Cody said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291 or at

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