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Berthoud to seek partner to develop townwide fiber

BERTHOUD — The town of Berthoud has shifted gears for the third time in its efforts to establish communitywide broadband internet services. This time, it will pursue a public/private partnership to develop a system for the town.

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to direct staff to issue a call for qualifications of companies interested in partnering with the town.

The plan as described Tuesday would have the town invest $3 million to $5 million — or an amount to be determined in negotiations — to help a private company build a communitywide backbone of fiber. The private company would pay the lion’s share of the infrastructure cost, estimated to be 80% to 90%, and then lease the fiber to multiple vendors to provide service to the doors of Berthoud residents. The private partner would recoup its investment by charging fees to the end-service vendors.

As Walt Elish, business development manager for the town, described, the town began discussions of communitywide broadband services several years ago. At that time, it sought an alliance with neighboring communities in hopes of attracting a vendor that would build out the fiber for all the towns. 

“We couldn’t find a provider who could guarantee a connection for everybody in the community in a timely manner,” Elish told the board.

Then last May, the town met with Loveland Pulse and Larimer County regarding a plan to have Pulse provide the network. But the cost of that plan for the town would have been between $17 million and $20 million, Elish said. The town then sought a third option: a public/private partnership, or P3.

Under the P3, the town and a private partner would form a special-purpose vehicle that would build the backbone and contract with multiple companies to connect to the backbone and provide the services to individual homes and businesses.

The plan would give residents a choice of service providers, which could have the effect of lowering subscriber costs through competition. 

“We think this is a viable option, and we’re coming back to ask to do an RFQ (request for qualifications),” Elish said.

While noting that the dollar investment by the town has yet to be determined, he said that “the more the public can contribute, the more control (it will have) over outcomes.”

Town Administrator Christopher Kirk said that the town share of the investment would likely come from cash reserves and not bonded debt. 

Board member May Albrecht signaled her support.

“That hits the nail on the head. We’ve been around the mountain for so long and it wasn’t quite right. To find a way not to monopolize (the fiber)  and give citizens a choice without significant debt to taxpayers is the way to go,” she said.

Source: BizWest