Local Internet servers back to the plate for piece of broadband pie
Representatives from at least three local Internet service providers plan to offer the Glenwood Springs City Council a last-ditch plan tonight to head the city off from becoming its own ISP.
The offers come as city council considers a deal that would make AspenWorks the city’s temporary ISP. If the 90-day contract is approved, AspenWorks would set up 10 pilot Internet accounts, called “lighthouse” accounts, in different parts of the city. AspenWorks would also set the city up to become its own ISP, if the city chooses to go that route.
“There will be a group of us at the council meeting,” said Paul Huttenhower, president of the Carbondale-based ISP Sopris Surfers, on Wednesday after attending a private meeting with most of the Internet resellers in the area. “It’s very positive.”
That group will include Huttenhower and representatives from RoFIntUG, Crimson Wireless and possibly other Internet providers. Huttenhower declined to release details of the plan.
“We’re doing everything we can to come to agreement with the city,” Huttenhower said. “We believe they want to work with the ISPs.”
The system, dubbed the Glenwood Springs Community Broadband Network, was built to provide a fiber-optic link from
government, school and medical facilities to the state’s Multi-Use Network, and provide low-cost, high-speed Internet access to residents of Glenwood Springs.
Each of the city’s new government buildings – City Hall, the Municipal Operations Center and the Community Center, have been using the system since July. If the contract is approved by council, wireless Internet access for residents and businesses will be activated on a trial basis in December and widely available by the spring of 2003, an AspenWorks representative said.
Glenwood Springs city manager Mike Copp said the city will continue to accept ISPs that want to lease fiber from the city’s system and resell it to residential and business customers.
“We gave them every opportunity to hook up with us,” Copp said.
Huttenhower said he and others in the Internet business feel tonight’s meeting is extremely significant in determining whether the city works with local ISPs or becomes its own ISP.
“I think it’s a last-ditch effort for the local (Internet provider) community,” Huttenhower said. “It should be quite interesting. We want to try and get all those hard feelings behind us.”
Copp, along with the city’s Electric Department supervisor John Hines, public works director Robin Millyard and information systems director Bruce Munroe, said even if the contract with AspenWorks is approved by council, that doesn’t necessarily mean the city will become its own ISP.
“Our goal is to provide high-speed Internet service at a good rate,” Copp said, adding that how that goal is achieved is secondary.
“We’re just trying to give our citizens cheaper high-speed Internet access,” Hines said. “Why are we such bad guys?”
Hines asked this in response to criticism from Huttenhower and Bill Challis, the Internet administrator for Crimson Wireless.
The deal with AspenWorks was possible, Copp explained, because both the city and AspenWorks lowered their normal fees to get the system up and running.
The city is charging the ISP just $5 per month for each residential customer, and AspenWorks cut its normal consulting costs in half, he said.
“These other ISPs are coming in and asking, `What can you do for me?'” Millyard said. “AspenWorks came in and said, `What can we do for you?'”
These savings allowed the city to offer high-speed Internet to its 10 lighthouse customers for a total of $49 per month, plus a one-time charge of $100 for equipment and installation. Hines pointed out that those fees are substantially lower than the fees for broadband Internet access charged by other ISPs in the valley.
But that price might not last past the 90-day contract period.
The city needs to recoup its $3 million investment, and may increase the $5 a month fee to the ISP to $20 a month, Millyard said. And that may make reselling access to the city’s network no longer competitive.
“We do need to get some money back. In the end, if it means we have to be the ISP so we can save our customers money, so be it,” Millyard said.
Hines added that no matter what happens, he would like to see local ISPs “aggregated into our system.”
Each of the four department heads also praised the work done by Denver-based Brunetti, which designed and engineered the system.
“They’re incredible,” Hines said. “You could take our documentation on the system and build another system.”
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