In a series of decisions, Loveland, Colorado’s City Council voted earlier this week to take the next step toward developing a municipal broadband network. In addition to allocating funds to develop a business plan, city leadership established an advisory board, accepted task force recommendations, and voted to amended current code to allow the electric utility to handle communications activities.
No Public Vote
The council addressed whether or not to ask voters to approve efforts to establish a municipal broadband network, even though the issue was not part of the agenda. City staff drafted an amendment during the meeting to require a vote, but after prolonged discussion City Council members voted 5-4 against including it.
Last fall, the city of Fort Collins needed to bring the issue before voters in order to amend their charter so community leaders could move forward with a municipal network. After spending more than $900,000 through a bogus citizens group to try to stop the measure, Comcast was unable to persuade Fort Collins to defeat it. Nevertheless, most of Loveland’s council members don’t want a repeat of the expensive hassle in Fort Collins.
Councilman John Fogle said that, prior to the Fort Collins election, he supported the idea of a vote on the issue, but he feels different now. "It's not an even playing field when incumbent industries will spend $900,000 at the drop of the hat to perpetuate ... a monopoly," he said at the February 6th Council meeting.
Other council members who voiced opposition to a vote said that they’ve heard from constituents since 2015, when the city voted to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. Since then, residents have contacted them to express their support to move the project forward. "I'm tired of being beaten," said Councilor Rich Ball, "Let's step up."
The City Council passed an ordinance that appropriates $2.5 million from the Power Utility Fund to the City budget for the municipal broadband project. Approximately $2.2 million will be used to develop a design for a gigabit symmetrical fiber optic network; the remaining funds will be used to obtain professional services to help the city with a business plan, outreach and education, and to consider financing.
Loveland’s Broadband Task Force made several recommendations, which the City Council adopted. One of those was that Loveland pursues either a retail model in which the city offer services to subscribers or a public-public public-private model. While the council accepted their advice, they also left the door open for other models, depending on developments as the project progresses.
Council members also voted to establish a Communications Advisory Board with nine members, each to have three-year appointments. Members of the Task Force were all appointed to the Advisory Board.
Loveland’s been working toward better local connectivity options for several years now. They’ve asked residents and businesses to complete surveys and they've conducted a feasibility study, hoping that a private ISP would be willing to enter the community to compete with Comcast. The city is plagued by poor customer service and high rates because the cable company has control of the local market.
Resident Susan Collins is ready to move forward:
“I don’t want the Council to spend even five minutes entertaining Comcast’s circus of lies and distortions. I hope those TV ads run last fall in Fort Collins...taught our state a lesson on what cable monopolies will do to protect their monopoly. They’ll do whatever it takes and you can lose if you play their game. We already had a vote when we elected our City Council. If people don’t like what they are doing, they can vote them out again.”