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Consultant recommends Glenwood Springs go ahead with fiber-optic expansion

Pete FowlerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – John Trustman said Glenwood Springs could make a few million per year and offer better services and lower prices than companies like Qwest and Comcast by expanding the city’s fiber-optic network to connect directly to homes.”It’s about a 20 percent discount for the same product across the board,” Trustman said. But he said the comparison isn’t really fair since the city would offer numerous additional features and better services for free that Qwest and Comcast charge extra for.The current fiber-optic network installed in 2002 hasn’t done well financially and has been losing about $200,000 a year. But city officials have said a number of things in the original business plan were never followed.The existing network connects only to businesses in some areas. The expansion would allow the city to sell Internet, television and phone service directly to homes as well as provide potential benefits for health care and education. The city is looking at selling off its wireless infrastructure and customers and running the network with a nonprofit with the goal of providing high quality local customer service.Trustman is working with a nonprofit group being called Roaring Fork Fiber that is executing a planning and design contract on the fiber-optic expansion for the city. He presented a report on the group’s work to the City Council Thursday. The contract between the city and http://www.rof.net is expected to cost around $135,000. Work began in July and runs through Nov. 1. The city has also given around $12,000 to Zoomy Communications and $44,000 to Uti Inc. in its investigation of the prospects of expanding the network, according to City Manager Jeff Hecksel.Trustman was the co-founder of the deNovis software currently being used by Medicare. He was a senior vice president and chief information officer of Aetna Health Plans and senior vice president of Fidelity Investments. He received an MBA from Harvard Business School, according to his resume.Roaring Fork Fiber currently includes around five other members. Two have worked for http://www.Rof.net or served on its board. Trustman said group members are consultants who have done a wide variety of large-scale technical design and implementation projects.Roaring Fork Fiber’s most conservative prediction says an expanded network would cost no more than a $12 million debt that would be repaid within seven years. The city says it would be repaid with user fees and not taxes. Roaring Fork Fiber predicts that even with “ultra-conservative” planning assumptions, the network will generate more than $3 million a year in profit for the city. That estimate assumes the city will get only 45 percent of the available customers by the five-year mark. The group recommends the city work toward finishing the expansion by winter next year.Trustman said financial projections show the city could provide much higher quality of Internet, television and phone service at lower prices than what is currently available. He said a basic “triple play” with the three services would cost around $99 per month. He’s said Glenwood’s services could be cheaper than those offered by large companies because they would be run by a nonprofit interested in improving things, rather than large inefficient companies operating on antiquated business plans whose only goal is to make a profit.Trustman said the expanded network would require a new box on the outside of people’s homes but wouldn’t require any rewiring inside the home. Internet speeds would range from three to 10 megabits per second outside Glenwood and up to 200 mbps inside Glenwood. Unlike current services, upload speeds would be as high as the download speeds.Roaring Fork Fiber tested the city’s existing fiber-optic network and said it was well-designed, mostly in good shape and should meet the city’s needs for a planned expansion. The group said it talked to local businesses and people in health care and education to determine what they would like to see with the fiber-optic expansion, and most conversations were very positive and interested in things like distance learning for schools and telemedicine for health care providers.One local Internet technology representative was “hostile” and believes government and nonprofit organizations can’t compete with large companies and provide adequate services, according to Roaring Fork Fiber. A few other critics have said the planned fiber-optic network expansion would probably fail financially and leave taxpayers with the bill.The U.S. is falling behind Internet connection speeds in other parts of the world, especially in rural areas all but ignored by existing telecommunications companies. The median U.S. download speed is around 2.3 megabits per second, while places like Japan and South Korea get around 63 mbps and 49 mbps, according to an Aug. 12 study by Communications Workers of America.Trustman said, “Putting in the next generation infrastructure to support the economy around the world is absolutely critical.”It’s not true when companies like Qwest and Comcast say people can do anything they want to over copper, he added.”Copper’s pretty much at the end of where it can be pushed,” he said. “Fiber’s just at the beginning. Not that anyone probably wants to download the entire U.S. Library of Congress any time soon, but the kind of things that you can do have changed radically in a very short time span in over just a few years.”Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121pfowler@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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