Executive Insights With Colman Keane, Broadband Executive Director, Fort Collins Connexion

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Fort Collins Connexion is the community-driven and community-owned broadband utility for the City of Fort Collins, Colorado. Their 100% fiber optic network will provide universal, reliable, and affordable, broadband services to all residents and businesses in Fort Collins.

The City of Fort Collins has a population of 174,871 residents, 70,429 households. Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University (Go Rams!), OtterBox, and New Belgium Brewery. Connexion launched in 2019, and is slated for completion in Q4 2022. To learn more about Fort Collins Connexion, visit fcconnexion.com.

Topic: Contractor/Provider Relationships

ISE: Connexion has partnered with Atlantic Engineering Group (AEG) for all of its construction work. What are some best practices Connexion and AEG have embraced to help this partnership be a win/win?

Keane: The relationship between the City of Fort Collins Connexion and our vendor partner, Atlantic Engineering Group (AEG), has certainly been a win/win for both parties. We have established some valuable and effective best practices with our partner. We maintain daily communication with management and supervisors, hold weekly standing meetings, as well as receive regular reporting and on-time budget updates.

AEG’s staff is extremely responsive to any issues in the field. They provide exceptional customer service and have been actively involved in multiple strategic planning sessions with other key Connexion partners. AEG has truly embraced their role as an extension of our brand, something we greatly appreciate and their active engagement with Connexion staff, City partners and our residents and businesses provides tremendous value to the City of Fort Collins overall.

Topic: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact

ISE: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your network deployment and turn-up efforts?

Keane: Realizing that the COVID-19 pandemic posed a considerable risk to the Broadband project, in early January 2020 Connexion staff began contacting vendors and suppliers to secure equipment and mitigate supply chain impact. Shortly thereafter, Connexion began working with our construction and installation vendors to understand the potential impact on their supply chain and project staffing.

We had also just completed work on a disaster recovery plan, and were able to send staff home and set everyone up working remotely within days. Connexion had been already working hard to ramp up construction and, while we had a few weeks during the initial shut down when there were concerns about travel into the state, AEG was able to successfully line up crews to come onboard to meet our production requirements.

Additionally, Connexion, AEG, and our installation vendor partner, OnTrac, were able to quickly establish policies and procedures to safely continue operations and minimize risk both to staff and the public.

Topic: The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act

ISE: The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (H.R. 7302) would invest $100 billion in federal resources to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities, and ensure that the resulting Internet service is affordable. Share how that will impact Municipal Networks like Connexion.

Keane: While Fort Collins Connexion has been building a 10 Gbps network since day one, we believe the minimum speed for any network should be 100/100 Mbps symmetrical. Any public money being spent on building a network should meet this minimum.

It is a positive sign that on a federal level, forward-looking definitions of unserved and underserved have been set for areas without access to Internet speeds of 25/25 Mbps without 100/100 Mbps respectively, and both are eligible for funding. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act clearly acknowledges the importance of high upload capacity for online businesses, telehealth patients, and other users.

Topic: HOA Relationships

ISE: There are a large number of homeowners associations (HOAs) within the City of Fort Collins that can make things easier or harder for Connexion’s build-out strategy. News reports share that the Connexion team is reaching out to the HOAs, as well as property management companies, to establish a strong communication process during construction. What are some things you can recommend to other municipal network providers to help them with HOAs across their network coverage area?

Keane: Due to the 100% underground build for the Connexion network, the Marketing Team made a concerted effort in early June 2020 to identify and contact the 400+ HOAs and their property management companies within the City of Fort Collins. Marketing conducted an outbound direct mail and email campaign to initiate communications around the construction process overall, emphasized the criticality of identifying and registering private irrigation systems with Colorado 811, and helped facilitate the process of negotiating Right of Entry (ROW) agreements with these private communities.

Additionally, the Marketing Team partnered with the City of Loveland Pulse (also in their initial broadband build-out) to provide a free online webinar for HOAs, property management companies, and residents, to learn more about the Colorado 811 requirements.

Depending on the type of build a municipal provider has planned, working upfront to inform and educate private communities and their property management companies helps prevent unforeseen damage and repair costs, and alleviates delays in installing the critical infrastructure.

Topic: Network Security

ISE: Share Connexion’s approach to network security.

Keane: Connexion has taken a multi-pronged approach to network security from day one, and we continue to look for ways to double down on security as we grow our business. Starting with an architecture designed to support physical and logical redundancy, traffic streams are resilient and secure at the link, nodal, and service, levels. Policy enforcement, encryption, and advanced filtering techniques, are inherent in Connexion’s network, along with traffic analysis tools to aid in understanding current states and trending.

With customers that include utilities with critical infrastructure such as electric and water SCADA, meeting federal security standards is a requirement and is built into our approach. To complement the secure architecture, Connexion employs real-time support, 24/7 in an on-site network operation center (NOC) for quick reaction to multiple threat vectors, from DDoS attacks to network outages on any level.

Topic: Pain Points

ISE: What are Connexion’s biggest network-related challenges right now?

Keane: The biggest pain point for Connexion is that the City of Fort Collins is located in Northern Colorado close to the border with Wyoming, and there are not a lot of options for network transport out of town. Securing a network route out of Fort Collins with vendors has been challenging.

Topic: Cost Efficiencies

ISE: In a recessionary environment, conservative cash management is imperative. How has Connexion created cost efficiencies?

Keane: Right out of the gate, the City of Fort Collins Connexion Team looked for potential cost sharing opportunities with the City’s 4 other utilities. Our shared use of Customer Service staff, Geographic Information System Mapping (GIS) with utilities, and partnering with Light & Power on field resources, aids in cost savings and gives us a larger pool of expertise for us to call on, expanded hours, etc.

We also looked for regional opportunities with local partners for shared support cost models. Connexion’s NetOps supports neighboring municipal broadband services Loveland Pulse and Estes Park Trailblazer.

Topic: Customer Care

ISE: Companies that prioritize innovation and care in redesigning customer experiences will be best positioned to stay ahead of shifting consumer preferences. What 2 things do you recommend to other providers to help them in this area?

Keane: The City of Fort Collins mission statement is To provide world-class municipal services through operational excellence and a culture of innovation. In that vein, Connexion is committed to delivering the fastest, most reliable gigabit-speed Internet and an outstanding customer experience. We want every step in the customer journey — from the resident receiving a door hanger alerting them construction will begin in their neighborhood, to their signing up with customer service, having their home installation, and if they need to call our NOC for technical support — to be met with the exceptional quality and care the City of Fort Collins is known for.

For providers entering this arena, look at every touch point with the customer as an opportunity to shine. And do not overlook your vendor partners out in the field — they are an extension of your brand, and can directly impact your overall success.

Topic: Priorities

ISE: What are 2 of Connexion’s top priorities over the next 18 months?

Keane: Fort Collins Connexion’s top priorities for the next 18 months are to complete our build-out, and to continue to update and maintain our network.

Topic: Failure

ISE: How do you embrace failure and encourage risk-taking across your organization?

Keane: I view failure as a learning opportunity. I always encourage my employees to take risks, stretch themselves, and work outside their comfort zone — this is where growth happens.

Topic: Myth

ISE: What is the greatest myth about leading an organization?

Keane: The greatest myth about leading an organization is: people are going to do what you tell them to do, leading is easy, and when you have a plan it will always go off like clockwork.

References and Notes
https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/7302

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Colman Keane is Broadband Executive Director for Fort Collins Connexion. Colman brings 25+ years of experience in Finance, IT, business planning, and project management, to his role as Broadband Executive Director for the City of Fort Collins. His expertise in Fiber Optics networks, from the initial business planning and technical architecture to software implementation, has been instrumental in the success of the municipally-owned utility EPB. Additionally, Colman has worked with numerous other cities, utilities, and co-ops, to launch their fiber optic networks. Colman received a degree in Business Administration from East Tennessee State University, was a Certified Public Accountant, and has earned numerous certifications, including a 6 Sigma Black Belt Certification.

 

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