The nonprofit formed to deliver a high-speed broadband network to Bozeman is trying to gauge whether the demand is as high as its founders hoped.

Bozeman Fiber recently released a survey asking people what they see as broadband’s place in their home and Bozeman’s future.

Fiber optic internet delivers data in light signals through small threads of flexible glass (instead of copper), which can either go in conduits in the ground or travel through wires in the air. Bozeman Fiber has touted a single strand can “circle the globe and carry the entire world’s communications.”

Greg Metzger, the nonprofit’s CEO, said its reach in Bozeman is limited. The existing infrastructure for fiber optics in town revolves around Bozeman’s downtown core and major businesses.

Metzger said the public survey will show where there’s interest to expand. He also hopes it proves to potential investors that building a Bozeman-wide system is worth the money.

“If the average person out there says, ‘I got just what I want,’ it’s fine. But those aren’t the people talking to me,” Metzger said. “Once we have data, it gives us something to work from. And we hope the answer is ‘yes,’ the interest in broadband is there.”

Bozeman Fiber formed as an independent nonprofit in 2015. The company began operating with its cornerstone clients like Bozeman schools, the city of Bozeman and Gallatin County. Then it had to work to convince other customers the technology could change their access to the online world.

Metzger said Bozeman Fiber has more than 29 miles of the infrastructure in place, which serves roughly 150 businesses. He said while that’s good for a startup, “in the long scheme, that’s not a lot.”

There’s a big gap in the system: Bozeman neighborhoods.

Metzger said it’s too expensive for the company to expand its infrastructure to add one house, though it has received requests. It cost $3.85 million to build the first 23-miles of the fiber-optic network.

Metzger said the survey will help decide whether Bozeman Fiber should continue to grow a little at time or aim to get enough money to expand across Bozeman all at once.

This comes as the city of Bozeman is talking about what role it should play in making sure the infrastructure can fall in place.

Bozeman Fiber stemmed from an idea out of the city of Bozeman’s economic development office that anyone in town should have access to fiber optics.

“Reliable, high speed, affordable access to the Internet is imperative for Bozeman residents,” according to a recent city staff report. “The Internet is changing how humans interact with each other and with the world at large, as well as being a driving force for the current and future economy.”

The city put $1.08 million into public fiber optic conduit that private companies fill with fiber technology. At this point, people can lease the city conduits and Bozeman Fiber manages and maintains the system.

Nearly six months ago, the Bozeman City Commission unanimously declared broadband as essential infrastructure.

“The declaration is intended to be a message to the community and our own organization, that fiber connectivity is essential, especially as Bozeman promotes itself as a tech town,” said Brit Fontenot, director of Bozeman’s economic development.

The commission vote included a list of actions the city could take when there’s time and money. That includes creating a conduit design and construction standard, maintaining records and maps of the city-owned conduit network, and potentially expanding that network with the conduit lease money the city collects.

Bozeman is also considering eventually aligning conduit network expansions with major city projects when it comes to building or reconstructing roads.

Fontenot said since the vote, his office has worked to pull together the money to create a conduit utility master plan. Commissioners approved putting $50,000 into the effort last month.

Fontenot said this week, the city applied for a grant for the remaining roughly $50,000 needed for the project that could lay out how and when the infrastructure for the technology could arrive.

“We need planned growth just like we plan our streets, our water pipes, our sewer,” Fotenot said. “By not planning, we risk not putting the infrastructure at the right place at the right time.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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