Bozeman Fiber, an Investment for the Future

Bozeman City Commissioners unanimously voted yes on Jan. 26 on a plan that aims to install and manage the infrastructure needed to provide businesses with high-speed Internet access via fiber optic cables to be installed across the city. According to the plan, the project will be managed by Bozeman Fiber, an independent non-profit organization that is to be specifically created for this endeavor. The plan is ultimately part of the Bozeman Broadband Initiative, which seeks to increase access to fiber, and lower the cost of broadband for businesses, by stimulating competition among private sector Internet service providers through both public and private infrastructure investment.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, In order to “make Bozeman businesses competitive in the world economy,” the plan calls for the construction of a reliable and scalable fiber optic network that can provide businesses with their desired amount of broadband and quality of service. Bozeman Mayor Jeff Krauss is quoted in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle saying, “Cities exist to facilitate commerce and create wealth … we do that with infrastructure.” Surely Bozeman has done a lot to provide businesses with high-quality Internet access. But as the city planners evidently understand, when it comes to the telecommunications industry, the definition of high-quality is constantly changing. If Bozeman is to continue facilitating commerce and wealth, it must always strive to be at the forefront of the digital world, the forefront of the future.

Bozeman Fiber hopes to make the initiative as open to criticism as possible. Due to how quickly technology evolves, one of the main criticisms surrounding the initiative is whether fiber is the best solution to a problem that is always changing. According to the Bozeman Fiber plan, fiber is a “future proof” infrastructure investment with a minimum useful life of 30 to 40 years. In the world of technology, that translates to centuries more than the lifespan of a typical advancement. It means that an investment in fiber today will propel Bozeman business not just tomorrow, but many years down the road.

Despite the unanimous vote, opposition to the plan exists. Most of the opposition comes from Internet service providers currently operating in Bozeman. During the city commissioners’ review of the plan, a spokesperson for CenturyLink stated that he does not think city-owned or managed broadband is the right solution, and that by not fully utilizing the infrastructure already in place, the city runs the risk of overbuilding. However, the plan clearly states that the government should have a limited involvement in the ownership and management of the project, and that the managing organization, Bozeman Fiber, should be a community enterprise subject to constant community oversight.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Bozeman’s economic development director, Brit Fontenot, says the project isn’t meant to turn Bozeman into an Internet service provider. Instead, the project mainly aims to install the infrastructure needed for high-speed fiber optic broadband, and then let Internet service providers use the infrastructure to provide their services. In this way, the cost of implementing a successful fiber network would be greatly reduced for the Internet service providers, which would consequently lead to lower prices for the end user. In an NBC Montana article, Bozeman economic development specialist David Fine compared this system to mail delivery: companies like UPS and FedEx utilize public transportation routes to deliver the mail. Likewise, under the current plan, Internet service providers in Bozeman would utilize the open-access fiber infrastructure to deliver their services, with better results for everyone.

According to the Bozeman Fiber plan, average global broadband speed is set to increase 3.5-fold by 2017. Soon the standard in broadband speed will surpass the capabilities of Bozeman’s antiquated copper networks. As modern businesses rely more and more on connected technology to satisfy their everyday needs, Internet dependence continues to grow at an exponential rate. Businesses go where the technology goes. And right now, the technology is heading toward ever faster data transfer speeds, speeds that can only be handled by a fiber optic network.

A powerful and reliable fiber optic network would certainly attract new businesses, and persuade current businesses to stay. Additionally, this fiber optic network would also do wonders for Montana State’s internet capabilities. Numerous large cities around the U.S. have been installing fiber infrastructure for a while now, and some smaller cities are starting to join the crowd. This is Bozeman’s opportunity to take the lead amongst smaller communities. The Internet is the foundation of the modern world, and soon fiber will be the foundation of the digital world. And if Bozeman can successfully implement the Bozeman Fiber project, then it will have a foundation for the future.