Voters in 18 19 Colorado communities chose local telecommunications authority with an average rate of 83 percent. In Fort Collins, voters weren’t swayed by rivers of cash Comcast threw at them in the final month leading up to a ballot issue to pave the way for local fiber optic Internet infrastructure. By a comfortable margin, ballot measure 2B passed, allowing the city to proceed as it examines ways to improve competition and connectivity.
Fort Collins Voters Say Yes To 2B
Voters chose to amend the city charter in order to give the city council the ability to authorize the municipality to offer telecommunications services as a utility, rather than taking the issue to the voters in a separate referendum. The measure passed with a comfortable margin: 57 percent of voters approved the proposal.
The city has been investigating ways to improve connectivity for several years now because CenturyLink and Comcast are only providing a patchwork of substandard services. As a forward thinking community, Fort Collins wants to be sure that they don’t pass up any economic development opportunities. City leaders also feel that a municipal network is best positioned to offer affordable Internet access as a way to create an environment that is equitable and inclusive, especially for Fort Collins schoolchildren. The city is home to Colorado State University, which needs high-quality connectivity for research purposes. When considering the city’s social, economic, and development goals, the future ability to invest in Internet infrastructure makes sense. Comcast sees the measure as potential competition, the ultimate threat.
In order to allow the City Council to, at some date in the future, authorize the city municipal utilities to provide telecommunications services, Fort Collins needs to amend its city charter. Without this amendment, the City Council will need to take the issue to the voters, rather than by granting permission via ordinance. If Fort Collins decides to work with a private sector partner to deliver services, these same restrictions apply.
As we’ve covered in recent weeks, Comcast has dumped oodles of cash into the Fort Collins race with misleading ads from an organization called Priorities First Fort Collins. When we released our policy brief on Comcast’s investment in the Fort Collins and in the Seattle elections, they had only invested around $200,000 in Fort Collins. By the election, that figure had jumped to more than $450,000. Fortuntely, voters in the city weren't fooled by Comcast's lies and are willing to give their leaders a chance to explore options.
Download the policy brief here for details on Comcast’s strategy and why they tried to buy the Fort Collins election.
More Communities Go With Local Authority
In addition to Eagle County and Boulder County, sixteen municipalities in Colorado voted on whether or not to opt out of restrictive SB 152. The 2005 law prevents local communities from offering advanced telecommunications services to the general public, either on their own or with a partner. In the past two years, scores of local voters have taken advantage of the law’s opt out provision and chose to reclaim local authority. Many of them have not taken concrete steps to build publicly owned infrastructure and are content with knowing that they have the option in the future.
Some, like Larimer County, have hired consultants or allocated funding for feasibility studies to take a closer look at their options. Other communities that have opted out in recent years have taken decisive action, such as Steamboat Springs and the state's celebrated community network, NextLight in Longmont.
For places like Greeley, opting out is a step in a process that has already started. Encouraged by interest from new business in the area, they've funded a feasibility study with nearby Windsor to examine ways to improve connectivitiy. In order to have all their options available, Greeley put the SB 152 opt out question on the ballot. Other communities have ideas how they want to move forward. Alamosa, which passed the ballot measure this election, wants to make better use if its existing dark fiber resources, but doesn't want to run afoul of the law.
Fort Collins opted out of SB 152 in the fall of 2015 and yesterday's vote was a critical step to ease their process and encourage competition. In every community that has put the issue on the ballot, voters have approved the measure to reclaim local authority. In keeping with almost all of the referendums we’ve watched, voters this year approved the decision to opt out by wide margins. Voters in Smowmass Village overwhelmingly approved opt out with 90 percent of the vote; the lowest approval was 61 percent.
The YES votes broke down like this:
Eagle County: 85 percent
Boulder County: 82 percent
Alamosa: 71 percent
Avon: 83 percent
Dillon: 74 percent
Eagle: 85 percent
Fort Lupton: 66 percent
Georgetown: 76 percent
Greeley: 61 percent
Gypsum: 85 percent
Idaho Springs: 70 percent
Louisville: 82 percent
Manitou Springs: 84 percent
Minturn: 81 percent
Monte Vista: 61 percent
Silverthorne: 85 percent
Snowmass Village: 90 percent
Vail: 85 percent
Update Nov. 9: We just learned that the small town of Kremmling presented the opt out issue to voters. It was their only ballot issue this year and it passed with 88 percent of the vote.
Update Nov. 14: We've learned that the community of Rifle held an election back in September to ask voters to opt out. They also passed the measure.
Local Folks Decide To Act
Yesterday’s results reflect the connectivity needs of small, mid-sized, and regional Colorado communities. The overwhelming approval rates reflect voters’ awareness that they can no longer wait indefinitely for big incumbent ISPs. They know they need high-quality Internet access and they know they need it now. Many of these communities are watching towns around them make economic development strides, bring better educational opportunities to school children, and offer advanced telehealth options and they know better connectivity is the driver. In addition to staying competitive, these 18 19 communities are now able to decide their own fate through local authority without the hamstring of state intrusion.
For a visual of what counties and municipalities have now opted out of SB 152, we've updated our map: