Schoechle: Xcel Franchise may risk Boulder's broadband fiber future


August 16, 2020

Council,

Please slow down!

The rush to ballot an Xcel franchise is entirely contrived.  Whenever Sam Weaver is asked “why now?,” his repeated response is that the schedule was on Alice Jackson’s terms.  This is like the car salesman pressing for a sale by claiming that this “great offer” will soon expire. This is clearly not valid.

BUT, there are many strategic and questionable issues buried in this deal, and both you and your constituents need to read and think about the details a little more carefully than is possible in this timeframe and under these impaired and stressed conditions.  For example, one more such detail that has recently surfaced is broadband fiber.

2) Broadband/Optical Fiber

Article 10 of the Franchise (copied below) has a number of “outs” for Xcel that many of us expect they will take with respect to joint use of poles (e.g. for community controlled broadband)

1) Telecomm is not listed in Section 10.1 and there are a number of “outs” for Xcel in ss. 10.1 and 10.2

2)  Section. 10.1 (no use of poles if a safety hazard–which Xcel can and has claimed at the PUC while Boulder attorneys and Staff sat there with their jaws dropping because utilities do joint use all the time and it is required by state statute (if memory serves), and

3) Section 10.2–“The Company shall not be required to permit the use of Company electric distribution poles for the provision of utility service except as otherwise required by law.” Again–a large “hole” that I expect Xcel will never be shy about using to block any effort by Boulder to have community broadband/optical fiber system (like the amazing system that Longmont has…)

Note:  Although Sam Weaver said he may propose adding telecomm to the list in s. 10.1 but that won’t actually fix the problem given the “outs” for Xcel later in ss. 10.1 and 10.2.   This could be a hidden booby trap.

Why is this important to you and me?

Community optical fiber has become a critical public utility and common resource, as has been made abundantly obvious by the present COVID-19–constrained environment for work, education, public discourse, access to information, etc.  Fiber will also become a critical element of all future electricity grids, energy management for distributed solar, storage, EV charging, microgrids, community safety and resilience, and much more.  IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO NOT LET FIBER SLIP THROUGH OUR FINGERS.

All over the country, and in Colorado, the folks most engaged in installing community fiber are the muni’s and rural electric associations (see <muninetworks.org> for the latest news).  This is for good reasons.  Longmont’s award-winning NextLight™(offered by Longmont’s electric muni, Longmont Power and Communication) is the best fiber network in the United States<https://youtu.be/WiSaMQcogG4>.  It is also a money-maker for the City of Longmont.  Now Fort Collins is installing a similar system.

Please don’t be stampeded into a deal by contrived deadlines.  If there is any stuff in this deal that bites us later, you will wish you took a little more care and got more input from those that elected you to represent them.  And, you can’t even see our faces anymore at the “public meetings”.

Tim Schoechle