City commissioners voted unanimously Monday evening to approve a master plan for the development of an open-access high-speed broadband network in Bozeman, likely through the creation of a nonprofit to manage the system.

“The city of Bozeman will not be an Internet service provider. Full stop,” said Brit Fontenot, the city’s economic development director.

Instead, he said, the nonprofit Bozeman Fiber entity would lease conduit from the city, own the fiber-optic cable inside the conduit and mange the network’s operation.

The system won’t be targeted at residential users, he said, but it’s possible some homes will have the chance to take advantage of it if the system’s cables pass near their homes.

Several major players in Bozeman’s business community spoke in favor of the proposal, including Downtown Bozeman Director Chris Naumann, Chamber of Commerce president Darryl Schliem and several people involved in local tech companies.

The only speakers in opposition to the plan were two representatives of existing Internet service companies that operate in the city, one of whom offered his qualified support.

Bill Blackford, an area plant supervisor for CenturyLink, said he doesn’t think city-owned or -managed broadband is the right solution. He also wondered if it was possible for the city to use CenturyLink’s infrastructure and questioned whether adding new fiber-optic cable would result in overbuilding.

“This is a great idea,” said Jim Dolan with Montana Opticom. “It’s a great initiative and it really will help the valley.”

However, he said, “There’re a few engineering concerns that stand out to me as big red flags.”

While the city’s five commissioners spent more than an hour asking questions of advocates for the fiber project Monday evening, they were ultimately unanimous in their support of the plan, voting to adopt a master plan for the system presented by Fontenot.

“Cities exist to facilitate commerce and create wealth,” said Mayor Jeff Krauss before voting to support the initiative. “We do that with infrastructure.”

“Broadband fiberoptic is the infrastructure of the 21st century,” said Commissioner Cyndy Andrus. “It’s a really good plan.”

“It’s just unlikely to happen unless we take that step forward,” added Deputy Mayor Carson Taylor, saying the initiative is a good example of the sorts of work government can do.

“I’m behind this,” he said.

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Eric Dietrich covers city government and health for the Chronicle.

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