The vote was a major victory for municipal broadband, even if it sounds like a slightly ridiculous one. Longmont didn’t vote to build a broadband network, or to raise taxes to one day build a broadband network, or even to undertake a study group to start thinking about building a broadband network. It simply voted that the city should have the right to decide what to do with largely unused infrastructure it built 15 years ago.
An excellent article drawing wide lessons from the referendum battle in Longmont between the community and Comcast.
The city of Longmont, Colo., built its own 17-mile, million dollar fiber-optic loop in the mid-1990s. The infrastructure was paid for by the local city-owned electric utility, though it offered promise for bringing broadband to local businesses, government offices and residents, too.
For years, though, the network has been sitting largely unused. In 2005, Colorado passed a state law preventing local governments from essentially building and operating their own telecommunications infrastructure.
Behind the law was, not surprisingly, the telecom lobby, which has approached the threat of municipal broadband all across the country with deep suspicion and even deeper pockets. Companies like Comcast understandably want to protect their corner on the market from competition with city-run non-profits. What’s less understandable is the route their interests have taken: Residents and state legislators from Colorado to North Carolina have been voting away the rights of cities to build their own broadband, with their own money, for the benefit of their own communities.
Update: A contact at Google cast doubt on whether the call below was made -- but also reiterated that Google is on the record opposing state laws like that in Colorado that take authority away from communities.
We have learned that Google called Longmont Power to congratulate them on regaining their authority via the successful referendum. Apparently, Longmont was a top contender for the Google Gigabit project but Google was unable to determine whether Longmont had the authority to work with them due to the anti-competitive 2005 Qwest law.
Presumably this places Longmont back on the list of places Google may try to build a network depending on the outcome in Kansas City.
This is yet another example of why state restrictions on local broadband authority is entirely counter-productive to spurring broadband investment. We previously speculated that Texas law prevented Austin from being Google's partner.
States: STOP taking broadband authority away from communities. Local authority is essential for investment in next-generation networks. Communities: make sure you are making smart partnerships! Don't just jump at anyone pretending to offer a free lunch.
What a difference two years and a strong grassroots campaign makes. Two years ago, Comcast's ability to spend $245,000 on a campaign of lies was the determining factor over Longmont's decision about using publicly owned infrastructure to expand broadband competition.
Yesterday, despite Comcast spending even more by again funneling hundreds of thousands through the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Commission, voters overwhelmingly supported question 2A - reinstating local government authority to offer telecommunications services using its infrastructure.
Full congratulations must go to the Longmont citizens who organized a truly grassroots campaign that sent people out on the streets with signs, organized informational events, disseminated press releases, maintained an information web page (and Facebook page), wrote letters to the editor, commented on online news stories, and otherwise educated their peers about the opportunity 2A offered. Craig Settles is also celebrating with a post describing the victory.
Once again, the question was:
Without increasing taxes, shall the citizens of the City of Longmont, Colorado, re-establish their City's right to provide all services restricted since 2005 by Title 29, article 27 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, described as "advanced services," "telecommunications services" and "cable television services," including any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, utilizing community owned infrastructure including but not limited to the existing fiber optic network, either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, to potential subscribers that may include telecommunications service providers, residential or commercial users within the City and the service area of the City's electric utility enterprise?
The results were 60.8% Yes, 39.2% No. 13,238 voted yes whereas 8,529 voted against.
The Times-Call has already posted a story about the results, including some...Read more
Today is election day in Longmont, Colorado -- tomorrow we will find out if Comcast's record-breaking campaign of lies has scared enough voters to prevent the community from using its infrastructure to encourage broadband competition.
It looks like Comcast will break the $300,000 mark, funneling the money through the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association. Two years ago, it spent over $245,000 in a similar effort -- setting the record for most amount spent on a local election in Longmont. Comcast and its anti-competition allies will spend approximately 10x as much as the total amount spent on the entire mayoral campaign. All to stop the city from having an alternative to the cable/DSL duopoly.
In a recent news story about the absurd spending level, the present Mayor struck an indifferent tone:
“It doesn't really matter at this stage of the game,” Baum said. “It's going to the electorate. The electorate will vote. And we will know on Tuesday how they voted – if they believe a $300,000 ad campaign, or if they believe the people they've entrusted their votes to.”
Both incumbents and challengers in the City Council race have unanimously endorsed 2A over the course of the campaign.
The Boulder Weekly has even weighed in on Comcast's campaign of lies and misinformation, tying it to their efforts two years ago:
In 2009, a similar campaign called “No Blank Check” was bankrolled to the tune of nearly $250,000, primarily by the telecommunications industry. That campaign, which was successful in defeating the measure, was labeled as misleading by city officials because it claimed money would be taken from police and firefighters to fund city telecommunications services.
“It was actually just the opposite of what No Blank Check was saying,” Tom Roiniotis, director of Longmont Power and Communications, told Boulder Weekly this summer. “They were saying we were going to have to lay off police and firefighters. Nothing could be further from the truth. … In fact,...
Below, you'll find a commentary I just posted on the Huffington Post.
Longmont, Colorado has become ground zero for the battle over the future of access to the Internet. Because big cable and telephone companies have stopped us from having a real choice in Internet Service Providers and failed to invest in adequate networks, a number of communities have built their own networks.
Chattanooga boasts the nation's best citywide broadband network, offering the fastest speeds available in the nation -- and the community owns it. That means much more of the money spent by subscribers stays in town, supporting local jobs.
Longmont, a town near Boulder with 80,000 people, offers a glimpse at how difficult it can be for communities to make any level of broadband investment -- the big cable and phone companies hate any potential competition, no matter how limited.
Longmont's elected officials all agree they need better broadband options to spur economic development. That's why they put a referendum on the ballot that will allow the city to use its existing assets to improve local broadband access. Not only are the mayor and city council unanimous in support of the referendum (2A) necessary for this, their opponents in the city election overwhelmingly agree also! And the local paper just editorialized in favor of it as well.
Who then, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to derail it? Comcast and its allies, of course. And this isn't the first time.
Back in the 1990s, the municipality-owned electric utility built a fiber ring to modernize its electrical grid. They took the opportunity to lay more fiber-optic cables than they would need, knowing that they could later be used by the city or partners to expand broadband access for all businesses and resident.
Over several years, the City worked with a ...Read more
The weekly 5 minutes netcast "Media Minutes" from Free Press has just featured a short discussion about the Longmont Referendum.
We have been closely following the referendum in Longmont, Colorado, that will allow the local government to use an existing fiber loop to sell telecommunications services to the private sector and residents.
Comcast and CenturyLink are opposed because local businesses would have more choices for broadband services -- which would require Comcast and CenturyLink to actually invest in their offerings rather than simply collecting the benefits of a de facto monopoly. It is more profitable for them to invest in astroturf opposition to the referendum than in their physical infrastructure.
When this came up previously, Comcast and its allies spent an unprecedented $245,000 to defeat it by confusing and lying to voters. This time around, big cable may outdo itself. It looks like Comcast and anti-competition allies in the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association have already spent some $239,000 [pdf] in glossy mailers and phone calls and door knockers to scare Longmont's voters into defeating the 2A ballot initiative.
The Comcast-sponsored Vote No group is called "Look Before We Leap and has already been busted for lying about the Mayor's position on the referendum, claiming he supported their position when he has been emphatically on the record in support of 2A. In fact, his challenger in the Mayoral race also supports 2A, as detailed here in the statements from both candidates on the issue.
So who exactly is "Look Before We Leap?" They cannot point to any real local support in the community. The web site is registered to "Melisa Kotecki Schlote" of a PR firm, Public Persuasion that lists both Comcast and the Colorado Cable and Telecommunications...Read more
Just one day after getting busted for lying about its supporters, a group funded by self-interested groups outside the community is accusing the City of distributing propaganda regarding an upcoming referendum over whether the City should have the authority to use an existing fiber-loop to spur economic development.
We developed a comic that explored the ways cable and phone companies use dirty tricks to fool people into voting against more competition in broadband (such as this "Look Before We Leap" Vote no group).
As if to prove our point for us, that group was busted for outrageously claiming the Mayor wanted people to vote no when the Mayor has been explicit in not just supporting the referendum but in condemning outsider groups like theirs from coming into the community to do the dirty work of anti-competitive incumbents.
Bryan Baum has appeared at several forums in support of 2A, including a Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce forum in which he urged out-of-town opponents of the ballot question to "get out of town" and let Longmont settle its own issues.
The group said "This is obviously a mistake," Merritt said. "We'll get that fixed." Yeah sure. Whoops. We accidentally claimed a prominent figure as a supporter. Their response? They took his name off that list but left his wife's name on their site!
This is a group with absolutely zero credibility. But they have tons of funding -- likely from Comcast and incumbent trade groups that fight these initiatives everywhere to preserve what is essentially a monopoly for the cable and telephone companies. We just republished an op-ed outlining some these tactics from 2009.
Vince Jordan, an advocate for broadband competition in Longmont, Colorado, wrote the following op-ed for the local paper about the upcoming referendum 2A. He has given us permission to reprint it here.
“There you go again” (to quote President Ronald Regan).
Well, it has already started. The folks who spent almost a quarter of a million dollars in the elections two years ago to convince the citizens of Longmont that being able to take further advantage of the fiber network they already own and are using is too dangerous for them, are at it again. No doubt by now, many of you have received one if not multiple “robo-calls” trying to convince you that the City is going to raise your taxes as a result of a yes vote on 2A. The first three words of Ballot Issue 2A say, “Without raising taxes”, but, since the opponents of this ballot, (those being the two mega-corporations who stand to benefit from you voting against 2A), can’t come up with any good reasons against the measure, they are resorting to the tired old cry of “they are going to raise your taxes!”
Citizens of Longmont, from 1997 to 2005, we had the right to use the asset that the city owns, namely the fiber network, to the benefit of ALL of the businesses and citizens of Longmont. The same corporations that are trying to “buy” your vote again, as they successfully did in 2009 with their “No Blank Check” campaign, in 2005 were able to lobby for and buy a law that took away our right to fully utilize this city owned asset. What ballot issue 2A is asking is for the citizens of Longmont to take back a right they once had.
This fiber network, which is fully operational today and used by the city for city purposes, and in fact already benefits the citizens of Longmont to some degree by keeping city service communications cost low, can do so much more. Our fiber network can be used to enhance the three Es, Employment, Education and Entertainment, here in Longmont. Low cost communications is as much a necessity today as is low cost power and water. Longmont already benefits from the lowest power rates in the country and the best service. Why wouldn’t we want the same advantage in the communications network that serves our businesses, our schools and our homes? Do you really believe the opponents of this measure, the lawyers from Denver being paid for by Comcast and CenturyLink, (stated so in...Read more