Tag: "election"

Posted November 14, 2018 by lgonzalez

Until November 6th, community leaders in Loveland, Colorado, vacillated between whether or not to hold a referendum for final voter approval on a muni project. Asking voters to make the final call can remove political uncertainty, but there are times when elected officials have to make the call themselves. When the city opted out of Colorado's restrictive SB 152 three years ago, 82 percent of voters supported the measure. On November 6th, Loveland City Council vacated a previous order to put the issue on the ballot and decided that it's time to move ahead on establishing a broadband utility.

Special thanks to Jeff Hoel who provided additional resources to enhance our reporting!

A Steady Hike Onward in Loveland

Loveland’s population is around 77,000 and growing. The city rests in the south east corner of Larimer County, which is located along the north central border of the state. Located about 50 miles north of Denver as part of the Fort Collins-Loveland Metropolitan Statistical Area, the city is organized as a home rule municipality. Other towns we’ve written about are part of the same statistical areas, including Estes Park and Windsor. They’re one of several bedroom communities where residents who live there work in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins.

Like more than 140 other local communities in Colorado, Loveland has opted out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. Loveland voters chose to shed themselves of the law in 2015 and the city followed up with a feasibility study the following year. Since then, they’ve moved ahead carefully with support from the community, including editorials from local media. City leaders have stated that their constituents also vocalize support for a publicly owned project. Approximately, 82 percent of voters approved opting out in 2015. In 2016, 56 percent of residential survey respondents and 37 percent of business survey respondents stated that incumbents were not meeting their needs. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise the public appears ready for community...

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Posted November 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

The march toward reclaiming local telecommunications authority throughout Colorado continued yesterday as eighteen more communities opted out of restrictive SB 152. As in prior years, voters passed referendums with high majorities in every contest.

It’s a Sweep

Once again, local voters emphatically expressed support to step out of the weight of SB 152 and put decision making for local connectivity in their own hands. The lowest passage for this cycle was 62 percent of the vote in Crowley County; the highest occurred in the town of Blue River where 90 percent of voters chose to opt out. Average passage for all 18 referendums came to just under 76 percent of the vote.

We’ve already reported on ballot measures in the municipalities of Aurora, Cañon City, Florence, Fountain, and Erie. Here’s how the “yes” votes shook out in those communities (please note that these numbers are considered “unofficial” and we round up to whole percentages):

  • Aurora: 75%
  • Cañon City: 73%
  • Florence: 83%
  • Fountain: 72%
  • Erie: 86%

Other cities and towns which we recently learned were taking up the issue also passed the opt out issue by wide margins:

  • Blue River: 90% (Wow!)
  • Las Animas: 70%
  • Wheat Ridge: 80%

Counties that we’ve been watching also came out positive. Thanks to Virgil Turner, who is the Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement for the City of Montrose, Colorado, (and our eyes in the state) we found out that this was a year when the majority of referendums happened at the county level.

  • Alamosa County: 70%
  • Baca County: 74%
  • Bent County: 70%
  • Chaffee County: 80%
  • Crowley County: 62%
  • Fremont County: 72%
  • Grand County: 78%
  • Hinsdale County: 89%
  • Kiowa County: 78%
  • Otero County: 63%

Within Colorado’s 64 counties, a total of 40 have brought the opt out question to their voters; all referendums passed. Now, 62.5 percent of counties in the state are free of SB 152, leaving only 37.5 percent or 24 counties subject to the harmful law.

Fixing Past Mistakes For Different Futures

In...

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Posted October 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

As Election Day draws near, voters in 36 states and three territories are set to choose governors. In Maine, gubernatorial candidates are making rural broadband a key issue. All four candidates agree that the state needs to be involved in some way, and each recently gave the Press Herald a summary of their plan to expand high-quality connectivity to constituents, if elected.

Different Approaches

Both Independent candidates, Terry Hayes and Alan Caron have suggested state investment. Hayes would like to earmark $100 million annually for four years to deploy fiber networks and capitalize on public-private partnerships. Caron suggests a statewide network, funded by $100 million in bonding his first term and a second term if he were re-elected, to connect every city and town.

The Republican candidate stresses public-private partnerships with an emphasis on encouraging private companies to invest in rural areas. The candidate, Shawn Moody, believes that using federal and state funds as the carrot for private sector Internet access companies will be enough to bring rural connectivity up to speed.

Janet Mills, running as the Democratic candidate, has a plan that seems consistent with some of the current activity in Maine. She wants to create Broadband Expansion Districts, that will allow rural communities to band together to expand and administer their own broadband connectivity. She goes on to state that those districts would be eligible for grants. Mills also sees a particular need to address coastal areas where national providers see not profit in upgrading services. She wants to look into establishing “broadband regional hubs.”

Mills’s approach appears a little more consistent with the regional efforts in Baileyville and Calais, the Downeast Broadband Utility. The two rural communities joined forces to create their own dark fiber utility when incumbents wouldn’t bring the services they needed. Recently Cumberland County released an RFP for a similar regional approach.

Dealing With It

As a mostly rural state, the problem of the urban/rural...

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Posted June 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

Michigan rural communities where big ISPs won’t offer high-quality connectivity are tired of waiting for relief that won’t come. One at a time, they’re taking action by presenting proposals to members of the community, discussing the possibilities, and seeking the authority to move forward. The specifics of how they fund that goal are unique to each community; in Sharon Township, the town held an election on May 8th to let voters decide. After a somewhat contentious campaign, the proposal to use a special property tax assessment to fund fiber optic broadband infrastructure did not pass.

Millage Method

A few months ago, we described how voters would decide in a spring election whether or not to authorize a $4.9 general obligation bond proposal for fiber optic infrastructure. The community would use the “millage” system to calculate how much local property owners would contribute toward paying back the bond. As Gary Munce from nearby Lyndon Township and Ben Fineman from the Michigan Broadband Cooperative explained in episode 272 of our podcast, a millage is calculated based on the taxable value of real property. In Sharon Township, the proposal would have added an average of about $3.2583 per $1,000 of taxable value to local property owners' tax bills. In order to help people determine how much they would owe under such a payment structure, the city hosted a “High-Speed Internet Millage Calculator” on their website.

Sharon Township planned to take the same approach as Lyndon Township, where a similar proposal passed last summer with 66 percent of voters approving the millage and 34 percent voting no. In Sharon Township, the numbers were similar but the result was reversed with only 319 voters approving the millage and 587 voting no.

Misinformation About Munis

In a May 2nd article of the local Sun Times News, Sharon Township Supervisor Peter Psarouthakis published an appeal to voters to make their decision on May...

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Posted May 8, 2018 by lgonzalez

Community leaders in Hudson, Ohio, are likely to ask voters this fall to approve bonding to expand their municipal fiber optic network, Velocity Broadband. At their last City Council meeting, the members heard the first of three readings for a resolution to propose bringing the question to voters.

Read the resolution here.

Time for Residential Service?

The network currently offers high-quality connectivity to local businesses, but according to city spokesperson Jody Roberts, it’s time to take the infrastructure into residential neighborhoods, which was always part of Hudson’s vision. At the May 1st council meeting, Roberts also said that Velocity is now operating in the black, which means now is a good time to take  gigabit connectivity to residents.

Hudson is like many other small cities, in that large national providers don’t see a justification for investing in fiber in non-urban residential areas. With a population of around 24,000, the community needs to remain competitive. Hudson began with fiber optic infrastructure to municipal facilities, which they built out incrementally over a period of about ten years. By 2015, they had started offering gigabit service to businesses, which have embraced the faster, more reliable service. By the fall of 2016, they were ready to issue an RFP for a feasibility study to examine a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Broadband access is now viewed as a necessary service, rather than a luxury. Like in increasing number of communities, Hudson’s proposal will ask the voters to fund the infrastructure with a slight increase in property taxes. Similar to projects in Lyndon Township and Sharon Township, both in Michigan, Hudson proposes to use a property tax levy to...

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Posted May 3, 2018 by lgonzalez

Looking at the Community Network Map, anyone can see that Iowa is filled with towns that have chosen to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. On May 1st, the community of Pella took a step at the polls that will bring them a little closer to having a "pin" on our map. Ninety-two percent of those voting in the special election chose to authorize the City Council to establish a telecommunications utility.

Approval to Move Ahead

The election results don't establish a timeline for construction or operation of a fiber network or authorize any funding, simply allow city leaders to take the initial steps at forming the utility in the future. The city already operates its own municipal electric utility, so they have the same advantage of many other rural Iowa communities that go on to deploy fiber networks. At a March 12 City Council meeting, elected official unanimously approved the resolution to hold the election. From the minutes of the meeting:

The need for a municipal telecommunications utility is being driven by concerns expressed by citizens and businesses regarding access to highspeed Internet. Furthermore, a municipal telecommunications utility could help meet the long-term high-speed internet access needs of our citizens and businesses.

It is also important to note that many rural communities across Iowa have either formed municipal telecommunications utilities, or are in the process of forming the utility. The reasons these communities have authorized the formation of a municipal telecommunications utility are similar to the reasons the City of Pella is considering this issue. 

The Pella Area Community and Economic Alliance (PACE), a nonprofit of business and citizen leaders, has endorsed the initiative to establish a municipal telecommunications utility. They note that larger businesses in town that require fiber for daily operations have been able to obtain lines from incumbents, but other businesses must suffer with slow connectivity. Incumbents Windstream and Mediacom offer DSL and some cable in the community....

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Posted March 20, 2018 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, twelve towns in central Vermont chose Town Meeting Day to ask local voters whether or not they want to band together to improve connectivity. Each community chose to participate in forming a regional Communications Union District, which will allow them to plan, bond for, and develop regional Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure. For episode 298 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher interviews Jeremy Hansen, local Select Board Member and the person who spearheaded the effort to bring the issue to voters in his region.

As Jeremy tells it, he didn’t need to do much convincing when local Vermonters learned about the Communications Union District structure. Most of the people in central Vermont rely on DSL and they overwhelmingly find it inadequate for their needs. The Communications Union District allows several communities to combine their strengths to work toward a single goal. Like water of sewer districts, the entity can issue revenue bonds so the infrastructure is publicly owned, but user funded. ECFiber is organized as a Communications Union District and serves 24 member towns in the eastern part of the state.

Christopher and Jeremy talk about how Jeremy researched, heightened awareness, and how when voters understood the pros and cons, their own common sense led them to approve this first step. He describes what’s next and what he’d like to see happen with the Central Vermont Internet initiative.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is ...

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Posted March 8, 2018 by lgonzalez

On May 8th, voters in Sharon Township, Michigan, will decide whether or not they want to pursue an initiative to invest in a publicly owned fiber optic network. People in the community of less than 2,000 people don’t expect the national ISPs to bring them the connectivity they need, so they will decide if they should take another approach to connect every one with high-quality Internet access.

Like Nearby Lyndon

Sharon Township residents and businesses find themselves in the same type of situation Lyndon Township faced before they decided to take action to develop a network. There is limited wired Internet access in the community, but it’s almost always slow DSL from Frontier or AT&T. Many people must rely on expensive and unreliable satellite for service. Comcast also claims to have a small presence in Sharon Township.

When township supervisor Peter Psarouthakis tried to connect with representatives from incumbents to talk about improving services, he couldn’t reach anyone who could make decisions. Next, community leaders asked smaller companies to serve their areas, but "They told us they have no plans to operate in our township because we don't have enough people, and the return on investment isn't going to be there for them.”

Pressing On

When residents and business owners completed a survey in 2013 as the community considered what route to take, 70 percent of respondents said that their current ISP did not meet their needs; 95 percent expressed an interest in alternative choices for Internet access. Since then, community leaders have hired a consultant to develop a feasibility study and Sharon Broadband Yes, a grassroots group advocating for a fiber network, has formed to educate the public.

The group is asking voters to pass a broadband bond proposal to allow the community to issue $4.9 million in general obligation bonds to fund a fiber optic network project. Community leaders accepted the estimate from the consultant’s feasibility study, which was completed about a year ago. As in Lyndon Township, the bonds would be repaid with a “millage” in which local property owners pay a certain dollar amount per $1,000 of taxable value of their home. In Sharon Township, that figure is $3.2583 or 3.2518...

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Posted March 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

We recently learned that a group of communities in central Vermont had decided to ask voters if they should form a communications union district to develop a regional fiber optic network. On March 6th, twelve of thirteen communities who took up the proposal at Town Meeting passed it, and the thirteenth will address the subject in May.

Clearly A Demand

We reached out to Jeremy Hansen, a Board Member in Berlin and the person who’s spearheading the effort to improve connectivity in the region. He told us:

I'm humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of support for this effort here in Central Vermont. There is clearly a demand for an Internet Service Provider that we, as a community, are about to start building. Two more towns outside of those that had it on their Town Meeting agenda (Elmore and Moretown) discussed CVI today, too, and they both look poised to apply to join us once we have our first board meeting.

Communities that passed the measure are Barre City, Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Marshfield, Middlesex, Montpelier, Northfield, Plainfield, Roxbury, Williamstown, and Worcester. In Berlin, East Montpelier, Middlesex, and Worcester the community took up the question with a floor vote and it passed unanimously. The town of Barre will bring up the question at its Town Meeting in May.

Looking East For Inspiration

As an elected official, Hansen has heard many complaints from constituents about poor Internet access and inadequate customer service from ISPs in his town of Berlin. As he's researched the problem, he's found that other communities in the region have faced the same problems. 

logo-cvi.jpg When looking for solutions, Hansen learned about ECFiber, which serves 24 member towns to the east. The publicly owned fiber optic network is organized as a communications union district, a relatively new designation in Vermont that is similar to water or sewer districts. ECFiber is publicly owned infrastructure developed by multiple communities, which allows them to issue revenue bonds to fund a telecommunications project.

Learn more about ECFiber and communications...

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Posted February 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

Spring will be here before we know it. So will local spring action at the voting booth, which for the past several years has meant that communities in Colorado will ask voters to reclaim local telecommunications authority. This year, the folks in Firestone will address the issue on April 3rd.

The Pursuit Of Better Broadband Goes On

Back in 2015, the town located about 30 miles north of Denver commissioned a feasibility study to examine the status of connectivity in the community and provide recommendations moving forward. Being located so close to a large urban center, Firestone has experienced growth which promises to continue. Between the years 2000 and 2010, population jumped from around 2,000 to more than 10,000. Growth is a good thing, but community leaders want to have connectivity to match, so businesses and economic development progresses in a desired direction.

According to the Times Call, consultants who developed the 2015 feasibility study focused on smart city applications for a publicly owned network. The firm also suggested the city pursue a public-private partnership, but before they can pursue that option or provide services themselves, voters need to opt out of SB 152.

At a Board of Trustees meeting in January, Members voted unanimously to put the issue on the spring ballot. 

Cities Reclaim Authority

Like more than one hundred communities before them, Firestone is asking voters to decide whether or not to reclaim local authority after the state legislature took it away in 2005. Lobbyists from the big telephone and cable corporations championed SB 152 in order to limit competition by preventing municipal and local governments from providing advanced services, including Internet access, to the general public. An escape clause was added at the eleventh hour which allows local communities to opt out through local referendums.

Since 2008, an increasing number of Colorado communities have held referendums and while some of them have developed and executed plans for municipal networks, such as...

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