At the Boulder County Fair, a little girl proudly donned a green cape any superhero would be proud of, proclaiming a speed worthy of the Flash.
“Fastest internet in the nation!” read the cape, along with the logo of the superspeed service – the community-owned NextLight™ network of Longmont, Colo., provided by Longmont Power & Communications (LPC).
Over the last few years, all of Longmont has been feeling pretty super. Since breaking ground on NextLight in 2014, the network has been leaping to major achievements in a single bound, including:
- Colorado’s first Gig City
- National recognition as the community broadband network of the year (NATOA, 2017)
- Recognition for making Longmont the fastest city in the country (PC Magazine, 2017)
- Recognition as the fastest ISP in the country (PC Magazine, 2018)
- Recognition as one of the factors that made Longmont an All-America City (National Civic League, 2018)
How did we get there? The total process from dream to realization took about 20 years, but some of the key factors included:
Looking ahead to opportunities: Longmont’s NextLight journey began in 1996, when the city was working with its wholesaler, Platte River Power Authority, to install a 17 mile fiber-optic loop for its electric substations. City staff and leaders realized that with additional strands, that loop could be the foundation of an ultra-high-speed citywide internet service. That foresight laid the groundwork for everything that followed.
Finding what didn’t work: When we first envisioned a citywide fiber-optic network, we planned to enlist a private partner to help make it happen. In 2000, Longmont signed an agreement with Adesta Communications to create the service and everything seemed on its way – until it wasn’t. That was the period of the “bursting of the tech bubble,” which sunk a number of tech companies. Adesta declared bankruptcy in 2001 and despite repeated efforts, a new partner was never found.
Enlisting the community: By 2005, Colorado state law barred local governments from operating internet services – by themselves or with a private partner – without the approval of local voters. That meant a lot of community education was necessary, both before and after the vote. Residents eventually came to understand that this would be done without tax funding, that this was a reclamation of rights we had once possessed, and that the gigabit speeds possible would open up a world of opportunities for home and business, especially with no contracts or data cap. (The fact that LPC had a 100-plus year history of providing high-quality, low-cost electric service didn’t hurt, either!) The vote in 2011 passed with 60% support, an early sign of things to come.
Doing the homework: We worked with a consultant to prepare a feasibility study, outlining where we believed the opportunities were. The study, completed in the spring of 2013, further enlisted community support behind a $45.3 million bond election that fall to ensure that when we began to build NextLight in August 2014, it could be done quickly. We also took the time to create our brand and work with community focus groups to determine what qualities of an ISP mattered most to them, such as high speed, low price, and locally-based support.
Doing it with style: A large infrastructure investment needs early support. So we extended an unbeatable offer to our customers: everyone who signed up for residential service within three months of its availability would get symmetrical gigabit service – both upload and download speed – for $49.95 per month. It became the most talked-about feature of our service, sent our phones ringing off the hook, and resulted in nearly all of our home users signing up for gig service instead of a lower speed, heavily boosting the average speed of the network. Soon, instead of the 37% market penetration rate that we had projected to reach by year five, we were regularly seeing rates in excess of 50%. Come buildout, we had a large base of very satisfied customers, which we put into action with a new referral program, offering a free month of NextLight for each new customer they brought to us.
It took a lot of work and still does. A lot of lessons were learned along the way, including the importance of close coordination with planning authorities, and the need to approach multi-dwelling units (such as apartment complexes) early in the process, especially when building owners or managers were from out of town and hadn’t yet heard the “NextLight story.” But the results have been something that all of Longmont can be proud of.
In fact, we think they’re super.
Scott Rochat is the Public Relations and Marketing Specialist for Longmont Power & Communications