MONTROSE – The nearly century-old network of copper communications wiring strung throughout Montrose dates to a time when horse-drawn carriages, not cars, ruled the streets.
Now that copper network has been deemed obsolete, impractical and inefficient. Soon, a speedy new fiber optic communications network will serve residents in Montrose, now and for generations to come.
Earlier this month, city residents overwhelmingly approved Measure A, giving city officials the right to reclaim and provide broadband, cable, phone and other telecommunication services.
For years, telecommunication lobbyists held sway over the state legislature, limiting what rural communities could do to improve next-generation infrastructure, according to the city.
By a measure of 3,982 to 1,397, or 74 percent, voters have given the city the chance to determine how it will proceed in transforming Montrose into a “gigabyte city,” where every home and business can have rich broadband service through a fiber optic network.
“It’s a quality of life issue for sure, it’s an economic development issue, and it’s an education issue,” said Virgil Turner, the city’s director of innovation and citizen engagement, on Tuesday. “Essentially what that vote was, the citizens gave us permission to more forward, and now that we have that permission by an overwhelming margin, we will spend the next few months determining what our next move will be.”
The city will begin a feasibility study, which will include comprehensive phone surveys of local residents, financial studies and a business model to prepare for public inspection sometime this summer.
Turner said the surveys will include all age groups and various demographics “to make sure we have a good understanding of what the community wants, if there are additional costs, and what they are willing to pay.”
The key is determining if Montrose taxpayers have enough discretionary funds to make the process “slow and steady” or “short and fast,” Turner said.
He said the City of Santa Monica, Calif. chose to pay for its fiber optic broadband by not issuing revenue bonds and are “paying as they go.”
“That’s not the fastest option,” Turner said, adding that the other business model would ask voters to approve a bond to “allow the city to move much faster.”
The end goal is to have fiber optic cable pass through every premise in town, placing Montrose in a better position to attract new jobs and bolster local education. In today’s business climate it does not make economic or practical sense to continue to upgrade or support a copper network.
Turner previously told The Watch the city has seen companies that are not considering relocating to Montrose, because the city does not have a high-speed fiber optic network.
“We’ve seen companies move some of their services away, or move people away, because that service isn’t here,” he said.
Luring the next generation of savvy entrepreneurs and tech companies to Montrose, with its mild climate and endless outdoor recreation opportunities, is now viewed as essential.
In his office on Tuesday, Turner presented a piece of current copper wiring, which was strung in the 1930s in Montrose, and a length of fiber-optic cable. He said the city has been wiring fiber optics through the city for the past decade, connecting places like the Pavilion and the wastewater treatment center.
All of those users are commercial, he said. “I’m not aware of any private users or homes.”
Turner displayed a length of cable showing multiple bundles of fiber-optic threads. He said each thread of fiber can service up to 32 homes, versus the thick copper cable which has “reached its maturity.”
Currently in Montrose there are about 30 to 40 miles of fiber optics. Turner said fiber-optic installation will service Montrose for generations to come, the way copper did for the past century. With the fiber in place, only the electronics of the system would need upgrading as technology continues to develop.
“We want to try to act quickly to try and understand what type of business model is feasible here in Montrose,” Turner said, comparing an overhanging system, like the copper network, to an underground network, which is much more expensive.
The city council passed a resolution in March stating that installing fiber would allow the “city to partner with the private sector, increase competition, and enable more companies to compete on price and services, resulting in significant benefits for Montrose in the form of increased jobs, new and improved services, and ultimately lower costs.”
The city cited the effort by the City of Chattanooga (Tenn.), which was listed as one of the best places in the country to operate a business, because it has invested heavily in fiber-optics. According to the City of Chattanooga’s website, it provides “one gigabit-per-second Internet speed available to every home and business – over 150,000 of them – throughout the entire community.”