Colorado Springs, Colorado (KRDO) – One of the many lessons of the pandemic was that Colorado Springs did not have a broadband internet capable of meeting the needs of families who were stuck at home, working and going to school.
As a result, companies are now building or upgrading networks like never before, and competition should be good for consumers.
Over the past few months, Colorado Springs Utilities has stocked giant reels and other items in a storage area near Hwy 24 and the Hancock Expressway.
The reels contain about 130 miles of bright orange plastic tubes that will be buried when CSU starts building the new citywide optical fiber network in mid-September.
The 3-inch channel will eventually contain hundreds of microfibers capable of delivering data at gigabits per second or more.
Brian Wortinger, CSU’s director of fiber optics and telecommunications, says the new fiber network will allow the utility provider to better identify the source of blackouts, as well as new capabilities such as remote gas cuts for a home at risk of fire.
However, the biggest benefit is that it provides a more secure way to control the different systems it monitors and manages.
These are all the controls for our electrical grid. These are the controls for our water systems. These are the controls for our gas systems. These control systems will be completely and physically separated from any IT system, which means that it is very difficult to attack from a cybersecurity perspective,” explains Wortinger.
The $600 million network will be built over 6 years, and eventually about 200,000 addresses will be connected.
CSU has divided its service area into 12 departments, and expects to move from one department to the next every six months, starting in the northernmost Colorado Springs.
Wortinger explained that it would have cost about $450 million to build the fiber-optic network to meet the needs of the CSU.
Instead, CSU leaders chose to build one with a much larger capacity for just another $150, and then lease the “dark fibre,” or unused capacity, to private companies who would then provide internet service to homes and businesses.
Wortinger said the network’s primary cost was installation, so the added capacity simply made sense.
Earlier this year, long before the first fiber line was laid, CSU chose Ting Internet as its first tenant to use the network.
Ting agreed to pay $593 million over the next 25 years, roughly covering the cost of construction.
At least two other cities, Huntsville, AL, and Springfield MO, have followed this type of “utility leasing model.”
Wortinger said that CSU has taken lessons learned from these projects and incorporated them into the local project.
These lessons include the financial structure of the agreement as well as anticipating some of the costs with replacing the old infrastructure needed to deal with the weight of the new system.
Ting Agreement does not include exclusivity.
CSU is in discussions with other private companies to lease space on the network, according to Wortinger.
“We are trying to find terms that are acceptable to all parties involved,” he said.
Meanwhile, other companies are already building their own fiber networks.
Metronet began construction in northern Colorado Springs in July.
Comcast, the parent company of Xfinity, is installing new equipment to digitize its entire network and allow for a faster and more reliable connection.
Stratos IQ, formerly known as Falcon Broadband, is expanding its fiber network to new parts of Colorado Springs.
The provider not only offers 1 Gbps service, but also 2.5 Gbps and 10 Gbps speeds in select residential areas in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
“Fiber is about capacity and reliability,” says Ben Klee, president of Stratus IQ, whose company began laying fiber nearly 15 years ago.
Klee says all the growth in Colorado Springs over the past decade is driving this internet speed revolution.
“When you have new rooftops, you’ll enter a new retail business, and all this development means that more communications infrastructure is needed.”
It is true that not everyone needs 1 gigabyte per second of the Internet.
Homes that don’t stream 4K movies, play online video games, or use other bandwidth-intensive devices can live for much less.
Consumer Reports has created a file Bandwidth Calculator To help people decide how much internet speed they need.
But this could change.
Since 2020, internet traffic has increased by 51%, according to Klee, while the number of home appliances like doorbells, security cameras, light bulbs and garage door openers connected to the internet has exploded.
“Normal homes now have 25 devices in every home, whereas a couple of years ago in 2019 it was just 11, so you see a huge increase in usage, and you see a rise in demand for the best infrastructure,” he explains.
So while the fiber internet may be overkill for many of us now, its capabilities should allow these networks to serve the city for decades.
The good news is that the cost of a fiber internet is largely comparable to a non-fiber internet, and most companies offer multiple options for speed.
Here are the latest published prices for 1Gbps service as of 9/6/2022:
Internet ting (Not available until early 2023) – $89 per month plus startup costs
Comcast / Xfinity $80/month, no equipment fee for 2 years
CenturyLink / Quantum Fiber (Not available in all regions, speed not guaranteed) – $65 per month
IQ Stratos (Not available in all regions) – $89 per month
metronet (Not available in all regions) – $59.95/month
Google Viber (Currently not available in Colorado Springs) – $70 per month
Internet Peak (Not available in all regions) – $99/month + rent an 800Mbps router
underline (Not available in all regions) – $65 per month