This has been a “loud” general election. The candidates, the campaign ads, and the supporters have all blasted their messages to voters in every state, drowning out some initiatives that are equally important. In Colorado, 26 local governments are asking voters to decide whether or not to opt out of SB 152, the state’s restrictive law passed in 2005 that looted local telecommunications authority.
In addition to seven counties, 19 municipalities have the issue on the ballot. Most of them use similar language from years past, when dozens of Colorado local governments presented the same question to voters.
El Paso County
There are about 664,000 people in the county, with approximately 456,000 living in the county seat of Colorado Springs. Rural residents and businesses typically struggle to obtain Internet access. County Question 1A reads:
Without increasing taxes, shall El Paso County have the authority to provide, or to facilitate or partner or coordinate with service providers for the provision of, “advanced (high-speed internet) service,” “cable television service,” and “telecommunications service,” either directly, indirectly, or by contract, to residential, commercial, nonprofit, government or other subscribers, and to acquire, operate and maintain any facility for the purpose of providing such services, restoring local authority and flexibility that was taken away by Title 29, Article 27, Part 1 of the Colorado Revised Statutes?
Recently, El Paso County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Sallie Clarke published a guest column in the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Gazette urging voters to support the measure. She noted that, even thought the initiative is important to the community, the local press has been quiet about the measure. With media filled by the Clinton/Trump race, there is little room for anything else, but she spells out why El Paso County needs to opt out of SB 152.
Clarke notes that dozens of other Colorado communities have already voted to opt out of SB 152. So far, 69 municipalities and counties have opted out. A few, including Longmont and Glenwood Springs, chose to opt out years ago and have already shown how to take advantage of publicly owned infrastructure to improve quality of life. Some, such as Centennial, are moving ahead with publicly owned infrastructure and partnerships with the private sector.
According to Clarke, El Paso County also has its sights set on working with private providers:
Initiative 1A permits, by public vote, an opt-out provision that allows commercial providers to tap into El Paso County’s existing or planned fiber and create partnership opportunities which are currently unavailable due to the restrictions imposed by state government. The measure restores local control over the future of our technology needs and resident accessibility, especially evident in today’s changing cyber world.
She also notes that a “yes” vote can have ancillary benefits:
1A may also serve to lower the wholesale cost of broadband supply to commercial internet service providers, making it economically feasible for residential and commercial delivery and expansion of broadband services to more remote areas. It could make faster connections possible, improving business communications.
Collaboration And Opportunity
Clarke notes that several local communities in El Paso County and nearby Teller County are also voting on the opt out measure and considering ways to improve local connectivity. She writes that recent safety concerns have contributed to the county’s decision to ask voters to reclaim local authority:
Commissioners said, during the discussion on this initiative, that the lack of high-speed data and cellular communications were challenges during both the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. It just makes sense that if public entities are already building the “middle mile” infrastructure for public safety purposes, private companies should be able to use excess capacity to make it more efficient to extend broadband services. If those fiber optic lines to its facilities and those lines have excess capacity, it is more efficient for private providers to tie into those lines and build out service to homes and businesses.
Constituents in some rural areas of El Paso County have no Internet access because there is no middle mile close enough to make last mile investment worth their while. Like many of the other communities that voted to opt out of SB 152 in the past, El Paso County may not have solid plans in place, but they know they can't create those solid plans until after November 8th.
A “yes” vote on 1A is a vote for local partnership opportunities and incentives to provide high-speed Internet services for the benefit of our citizens.