Former Connexion Executive Director, Colman Keane, failed the residents of Fort Collins. We recently learned that Keane ought to have known that the business plan, which included all of the projected costs and revenues for the Fort Collins municipal broadband project (aka Connexion), was highly inaccurate.
Keane was paid $248,000 per-year for the three years he served as Connexion’s Executive Director – a position he accepted after working as a consultant to the City for municipal broadband. His salary was second only to perennial Connexion cheerleader, City Manager Darin Atteberry, who was paid $278,500 per year until he too left the City’s employ, conveniently just before the truth about Connexion’s failings were finally made public.
Under Keane’s direction, Connexion missed targeted revenues by nearly $10 million, and is over budget on build-out and installation by a massive $35 million. Overall, a staggering $45 million swing-and-miss left for residents to cover.
Any business plan is only as successful as the assumptions made for the financial modeling. In this case, the assumptions were never going to pan out, but residents were told for three years that everything was going pretty much as planned.
Failed assumption #1: Pre-existing conduit. Keane assumed 72 percent of the conduit necessary to bury Connexion’s fiber cables was already in place, but existing conduit had been underground for at least fifty years and had significant damage from root penetration and freeze-thaw cracking. This assumption could only have been feasible if things buried underground and untouched for half a century reliably suffered zero physical damage.
Failed assumption #2: Cost of installation. Keane’s business plan assumed residential customers would incur no additional installation costs—because business customers would compensate for this freebie by incurring their own significant installation costs. Unfortunately, there are not enough businesses in Fort Collins to make this calculation even remotely feasible. These numbers were known and readily available, but were ignored by the business plan.
Failed assumption #3: Commercial buildings and multi-family-unit subscribers. Keane assumed all would-be subscribers from apartment-type buildings would enroll by the end of 2022. The current projection for this significant benchmark is the end of 2024. The two-year miscalculation, and correlating misses on revenue, is attributed to the fact that many commercial-building owners live outside Fort Collins, necessitating additional time to sell them on Connexion. This reality was also known and obscured in 2018 when this inexcusable projection was made.
Failed assumption #4: Total commercial and business subscribers. Keane’s business plan assumed forty-five percent of businesses would enroll in Connexion by the end of 2022. The updated projection is twenty-eight percent by the end of 2024—a nearly forty percent miss. The puzzling explanation for the huge miss is would-be business subscribers are working from home because of COVID. Perhaps more people are working remotely at present, but if the claim is that nearly forty percent of would-be subscribers are working remotely, that presumes the actual number of workers staying home is far, far greater, and will remain the case beyond 2024.
In 2018, Keane said he was confident in the program’s success, and hoped for everyone to have access to Connexion in three years. Now, the best-case scenario is six years, at an additional cost of at least $35 million. Unfortunately, current City leadership seems disinterested in accountability, and instead is plowing forward at full steam.
Sarah Hunt is a resident of Fort Collins.
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