Longmont, Colorado, Considers Broadband Options

As I noted previously, a community in Colorado - Longmont - will soon vote on whether the local government should be allowed to sell retail Internet services. This community has tried a number of approaches to expanding broadband competition but have not yet succeeded in getting the networks they need.

The local paper opposes the measure. However, the editorial frames the issue in a curious way. It claims the ballot measure will "override" state law, which is utterly false. State law says the community has to approve it before they can do it - so the City is complying with the state law.

Those against the measure point to failed municipal-run telecommunication efforts as another reason not to support this measure. That’s fairly compelling, especially when we have no specifics about what type of telecommunications projects the city will pursue.

Those against the measure claim that municipal-run telecommunications efforts have failed. They often point at successful community networks (or even failed privately owned networks, oddly enough), call them failures, and rightly assume that no one will fact-check the assertions. Often, they will gin up some false numbers that suggest a far-off network has lost a lot of money (using their same methodology, it would be crazy for anyone to borrow to buy a house).

Regarding the concern over what specific project the city will pursue if authorized, this is an interesting catch-22 because it makes little sense to expend a lot of money on a business plan before a community has the authority to build something. Either decision is difficult and requires a trust in the local leadership and democratic process.

Comments to that editorial rightly note that Comcast and Qwest will not prioritize investments in Longmont until they see competition. The private sector has failed to generate competition on its own, so the community is smart to consider spurring competition themselves. However, both Comcast and Qwest can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to scare people into voting against competition - it will still be cheaper for the incumbents than having to actually invest in faster networks.

One of the comments provides some interesting background on local broadband:

The Longmont Fiber ring was built by now-defunct Adesta Communications. The City wisely included language in the right-of-way contracts that gave them the right to the fiber if it was abandoned. Currently there is 12% usage and lots of opportunity for the City to resell strands and collect revenues. They aren’t looking to provide IPTV, just access and need [Ballot Question] 2C passed in order to do this. Also, Longmont has been working diligently to keep bandwidth flowing through the DHB wi-fi network and keep the customers online. 2C will give them the authority to salvage the network and get it running in top condition again.

Craig Settles recently wrote a piece looking at Longmont, specifically the role of companies like Comcast who fund groups to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that is very hard for local governments and truly grassroots organizations to respond effectively to. They are overwhelmed by being outfunded -- sometimes 25:1.

However, communities that move forward overwhelmingly see success - see Craig's story for a few profiles or read the reports that we showcase (particularly the Municipal & Utility Fiber Optics Guidebook and Muni Broadband Policy Brief).

As citizens in Longmont consider their options, I hope they are able to see past the self-interested Comcast and Qwest lies claiming that community-owned networks are doomed. The communities that have failed are those who remain dependent on absentee-companies that put profits above community needs.