A Neutral Network

The city council of Fort Collins, Colorado has voted unanimously to pursue a project that would provide municipal broadband internet to the city. In November 2017, residents of Fort Collins approved a ballot question on the topic — despite lobbying and advertising campaigns by the cable industry — giving authorities clearance to move forward with flans to build the necessary infrastructure.

This plan has even greater importance given the Federal Communication Commission's recent vote to disassemble Net Neutrality legislation put in place in 2015. The municipal network will not be subject to data caps, and will provide completely neutral internet service to the residents of Fort Collins.

"The network will deliver a 'net-neutral' competitive unfettered data offering that does not impose caps or usage limits on one use of data over another (i.e., does not limit streaming or charge rates based on type of use)," reads a new planning document. "All application providers (data, voice, video, cloud services) are equally able to provide their services, and consumers' access to advanced data opens up the marketplace."

This step forward grants a $1.8 million loan, taken from the city's general fund, to the electric utility. The money will be used for first-year costs, with bonds set to be issued at a later date to pay for further work.

Internet service using the municipal broadband network is set to be offered in two tiers. Gigabit service is expected to cost $70 per month, and a cheaper option will also be available.

There is a considerable amount of work to be done in order to establish the network, and Fort Collins' authorities are estimating that it should be complete within five years. When it's done, the network will join a growing pool of over 500 communities that offer some form of local broadband, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mount Washington, Massachusetts, and Fort Collins' neighboring Longmont, Colorado. It's possible that other local councils might pursue similar efforts in order to enforce similar protections to net neutrality on a regional basis.

However, Fort Collins has a significant head start. There are various logistical hoops to jump through for such an effort. If other municipalities wait to see how this project works out before starting work, residents could have to deal with less-than-ideal internet access for a significant period of time.

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