Tag: "election"

Posted October 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

With their back against the wall, Comcast is pulling out it’s well manicured, sharp claws in Fort Collins, Colorado. Voters will be asked to approve measure 2B on November 7th, which would allow the city to take steps toward establishing their own municipal telecommunications utility. In order to preserve the lack of competition, incumbent Internet access providers are on track to spending more during this election than has been spent on any other issue in Fort Collins’ history.

Behind The Name Of "Citizen"

As we’ve come to see time and again, when a local community like Fort Collins takes steps to invest in the infrastructure they need for economic development, incumbents move in to prevent municipal efforts. Comcast and CenturyLink aren’t offering the types of connectivity that Fort Collins wants to progress, so the city has decided to ask the voters whether or not they feel a publicly owned broadband utility will meet their needs.

logo-comcast.png In keeping with the usual modus operandi, out of the woodwork emerge lobbying groups that not-so-artfully mask incumbents like Comcast and CenturyLink. These groups are able to contribute large sums of money to whatever organization has been established, often in the form of a “citizens group,” to bombard local media with misinformation about municipal networks to try to convince voters to vote against the initiative. In Fort Collins, the “citizens group” happens to call itself Priorities of Fort Collins (PFC).

A closer look at who is funding PFC’s website and professional videos takes one to the recently filed campaign report. The City Clerk’s Office has a copy of this document on file and shows that PFC has only three contributors, none of whom are individual “citizens” but are associated with big telecom:

  • $125,000 from the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association (CCTA): This organization was the same mask Comcast used back in 2011 when it spent approximately $300,000 to stop a similar effort...
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Posted October 23, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

This November, more Colorado towns and counties will be voting on whether to opt out of the 12-year-old SB 152, a state law that restricts broadband development. 

Sweeping Out the Old

Senate Bill 152 has hindered communities’ ability to invest in Internet infrastructure and provide service themselves or with private sector partners. Many communities are realizing that national carriers can’t be relied on to provide high-quality Internet access. To date, at least 98 communities across the state of Colorado have voted to reclaim local telecommunications authority by opting out of SB 152; a handful are considering actually pursuing a publicly owned network. 

Opening the Door for Options 

For some towns and counties, the ballot question is simply a way to keep their options open and to reclaim local authority that the state took away in 2005. As we’ve seen in Westminister, Maryland, public-private partnerships can be a great option for communities. Being out from under SB 152 will allow these municipalities to explore high-quality network options if the opportunity arises. Additionally, when towns give themselves the ability to explore new providers and different models, current ISPs tend to take notice and adapt accordingly. Beyond these options and ripple effects from shedding SB 152, some towns simply want autonomy and freedom from sweeping state regulation. 

In Eagle County, they recognize climbing out from under SB 152 will allow them to consider more substantial steps for taking back local power and implementing a high-speed network. They’ve yet to conduct any feasibility studies but in their yearly Legislative Policy Statement they made it clear that they’re motivated to improve connectivity. 

Ushering in the New 

The town of Greeley is moving more decisively. Ahead of the November election and vote on SB 152,...

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Posted October 19, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

With election season fast approaching, Fort Collins is buzzing with the possibility of municipal broadband entering the quaint Colorado town. In addition to talk among neighbors, advocates supporting the measure are expressing themselves with letters to the local media.

If ballot measure 2B is voted through, it would allow the city charter to be amended to include high-speed Internet as a municipal utility. It’s been two years since Fort Collins and other Colorado communities opted out of SB 152. And this November they’ll vote on whether municipal broadband should be an option for their community.

Talk of Muni Broadband Bubbles Up

Recent op-eds have raised the ballot issue and unflinchingly come down in support for municipal broadband. Zach Shelton, a Fort Collins dentist explained in his piece that

In order to continue to grow and facilitate healthy families and communities, we must have access to reliable and fast Internet that can connect our medical record system and servers between offices. Broadband is the glue that connects all of us in the medical field and has increasingly become an equally important tool in our doctor bag.

David Austin-Groen admits his initial apathy to the municipal broadband debate, but concedes, finding foresight, and gets right to the heart of the problem:

We simply cannot rely on the private sector to provide this service, if they ever do, and we certainly can’t live on hope that they will act in the community's best interest.

Community members and organizations have begun a lively debate over the issue. The Citizens Broadband Coalition is actively advocating for a yes vote on the ballot measure. Colorado State University recently hosted a presentation and panel discussion that shed light on both sides of the debate.

This isn't the first...

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Posted October 2, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

The Fort Collins’ ballot measure that could amend the City Charter allowing high-speed Internet to become a municipal utility moves forward after a short legal scuffle. The question will be decided at the November 7th special election.

Failed Legal Petition

After the language of the ballot question was released following approval by City Hall, local activist Eric Sutherland filed a petition with Larimer County. Sutherland — well known for his numerous petitions wagered against the city, county and school district— claimed that the language “failed to consider the public confusion that might be caused by misleading language”. Sutherland also insisted the proposed City Charter Amendment isn’t legal under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment to the State Constitution. TABOR requires local governments to get voter approval to raise tax rates or spend revenue collected under existing tax rates. 

Attorneys representing the city of Fort Collins rejected Sutherland’s claims and maintained that the amendment isn’t covered by TABOR. A utility does not require voter approval to issue debt because it is legally defined as an enterprise, a government-owned business. Moreover, Fort Collins Chief Financial Officer Mike Beckstead testified that the bonds would be backed by utility ratepayers, not tax revenue. City Council explained in a statement that they included the $150 million-dollar figure in the ballot language in an effort to maintain transparency and show the level of commitment a broadband utility could require from the municipality. By including the dollar amount in the ballot language, the Charter would also establish a limit on any debt.

District Court Judge Thomas French issued his ruling on Sept. 4th, dismissing Sutherland's arguments regarding TABOR and explained that “there are no legal grounds to cause the submission clause to be rewritten” and finally that “...

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Posted September 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

For years we’ve encouraged voters to make improving connectivity a campaign issue in local, state, and federal elections by pursuing answers from candidates. In this year's Virginia Gubernatorial race, it has now become a topic that both candidates are addressing as a key issue. The Roanoke Times Editors, no strangers to the state's struggles with rural Internet access, recently published an editorial to inform voters that broadband is finally getting some long overdue attention.

Surprised And Pleased

The Times has spent significant resources on broadband reporting in recent years, so it’s no surprise that the editors are savvy to the fact that broadband as a campaign issue is a novel development.

The most important news here is that both candidates say they see a state role in extending broadband to rural Virginia. The times really are a-changing: This is the first governor’s race where broadband has been a big enough issue for candidates to issue policy papers on the subject.

During the last legislative session, the Times covered Delegate Kathy Byron’s bad broadband bill closely. Over the past few years, they’ve pointed out the many disadvantages local communities face when folks suffer from poor connectivity. They've also shined a light on why the state’s economy will deteriorate if Virginia does nothing to improve Internet access in rural areas.

Comparisons

In this editorial, the Times briefly lays out a few differences that the candidates have expressed in their proposals. Both candidates want to expand the state’s fledging Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, modeled on Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has also recently inspired Ohio legislators.

Virginia's election is November 7th, which gives voters time to review both plans, contact the candidates with questions, and decide which candidate's...

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Posted August 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

As predicted, more Colorado communities are opting out of the state’s restrictive SB 152 that removed local telecommunications authority in 2005. Two more communities have decided to put the question to voters this fall in order to take the reins and reclaim local control.

Eagle County

There are about 53,000 people living in Eagle County, located in the northwest section of the state. The County Commission had considered taking the matter to the voters last fall, but considered the ballot too full with other measures. The town of Red Cliff within Eagle County voted to opt out of the law in 2014. County officials have included telecommunications in their legislative policy statement supporting their intent to reclaim local authority and bringing better connectivity to both urban and rural areas of the county.

Eagle County encompasses 1,692 square miles; much of that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. There are several national protected areas within the county. They haven’t established a plan to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, but first want to deal with the issue of opting out of SB 152.

City of Alamosa

Alamosa, county seat of Alamosa County, is also planning on bringing the issue to voters this fall. Like many other communities that have voted to opt out, Alamosa doesn’t have specific plans to invest in infrastructure yet, but they want to have all options on the table. 

They’re interested in using existing city owned dark fiber and conduit and exploring possible public-private partnerships, but they’ve not ruled out offering direct services. In a few of the public areas, Alamosa intends to offer free Wi-Fi while they look into possible solutions.

Alamosa is in south central Colorado and home to approximately 8,800 people. The climate is a cold desert where the Rio Grande River passes through town. More than half of county residents live in the city.

Joining An Ever Expanding List

Earlier this year, Central City and Colorado Springs voters...

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Posted August 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

In a record high turnout for a non-general election, voters in Lyndon Township, Michigan, decided to approve a bond proposal to fund a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The measure passed with 66 percent of voters (622 votes) choosing yes and 34 percent (321 votes) voting no.

Geographically Close, Technologically Distant

The community is located only 20 minutes away from Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan and the sixth largest city in the state, but many of the Township’s residents must rely on satellite for Internet access. Residents and business owners complain about slow service, data caps, and the fact that they must pay high rates for inadequate Internet service. Residents avoid software updates from home and typically travel to the library in nearby Chelsea to work in the evening or to complete school homework assignments.

Lyndon Township Supervisor Marc Keezer has reached out to ISPs and asked them to invest in the community, but none consider it a worthwhile investment. Approximately 80 percent of the community has no access to FCC-defined broadband speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

“We don’t particularly want to build a network in our township. We would rather it be privatized and be like everybody else,” Keezer said. “But that’s not a reality for us here.”

When local officials unanimously approved feasibility study funding about a year ago, citizens attending the meeting responded to their vote with applause

A Little From Locals Goes A Long Way

The community will finance their $7 million project with a 2.9 millage over the next 20-years, which amounts to a $2.91 property tax increase per $1,000 of taxable value of real property. Average cost per property owner will come to $21.92 per month for the infrastructure. Basic Internet access will cost $35 - 45 per month for 100 Mbps; speeds will likely be symmetrical. They estimate the combined cost of infrastructure millage and monthly fee for basic service will be $57 - 67...

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Posted June 12, 2017 by lgonzalez

Greeley, Colorado, will likely ask voters to consider opting out of state law SB 152 this fall. City Council members from the city of 100,000 people decided on June 6th to join with nearby Windsor (pop. 18,500) to fund a feasibility study, which will be completed this fall.

Almost One Hundred

Ninety-eight communities across the state of Colorado have voted to reclaim local telecommunications authority via the ballot box. In 2005, the state legislature passed SB 152, which discourages public investment in Internet network infrastructure. Even if local communities want to work with private sector partners, they need to present the question or risk running afoul of the state law. 

As an increasing number of towns and counties realize that high-quality connectivity will not come from national providers, they are choosing to present the question to the voters. Whether they have immediate plans or simply consider the matter a question of local authority, all have chosen to free themselves from the confines of SB 152. This spring, Central City and Colorado Springs held referendums and both passed the measure to opt out.

Taking It Slow

Greeley isn’t in a rush as it considers a publicly owned solution to their connectivity problems. In September 2016, city leadership decided to take incremental steps and directed staff to research options. According to a Greeley Tribune article at the time:

Councilman Robb Casseday said he was talking with a business considering a move to Greeley recently, and that Internet access was first on its priority list.

"Internet is going to be more and more of a future commodity that is going to be as important, I think, as water and sewer to a municipality," he said.

That's what got him on board with considering making high-speed Internet a city utility.

In addition to improving...

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Posted April 7, 2017 by htrostle

This spring, two more communities in Colorado reclaimed the authority to build municipal networks. Colorado Springs and Central City voted to opt out of SB 152, a state law that removed local telecommunications authority in 2005.

Voters overwhelmingly chose to restore local authority to make decisions for themselves. Now the cities can discuss if a community network is right for them.

Quick Count

The Denver Business Journal covered the outcome of these April votes - noting the strong showing in rural Central City. The referendum to “opt out” of SB 152 easily passed in the small community; of the 182 ballots, 162 folks voted yes for local control [pdf]. That means 89 percent of the voters were in favor of the measure. 

In the much larger, urban community of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Independent described a much tigher vote: 61 percent to 39 percent in favor of local authority. That’s about 50,000 yes votes to 32,000 no votes. Voters also decided another related ballot initiative concerning the sale of city infrastructure. Assets related to city utilities, such as water, electricity or telecom, now cannot be sold without the approval of a supermajority of 60 percent of votes cast in a referendum. 

Nearly 100 Communities Say YES

These two communities join the nearly 100 communities that have already restored local authority. Last November, 26 other communities also voted to opt out of the law. More communities may join this growing movement this fall. 

 

Posted December 8, 2016 by Scott

Summit County in central Colorado is exploring how to bring Gigabit connectivity (1,000 Megabits per second) to homes and businesses in its region. 

The County recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to participate in a public-private partnership to bring a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to local businesses and residents. The County is also looking for a private partner to help deploy wireless broadband service. The deadline for submitting RFI responses is Jan. 9, 2017.

In its RFI, the County said it:

“[R]ecognizes that it may be economically challenging to deploy fiber-to-the premises infrastructure throughout the County and thus understands that early investments may focus on population centers in the County. The County’s hope, however, is that world-class networks will eventually expand to the less populous areas of the County.”  

The county indicated it is seeking proposals from a potential private sector partner who would be interested in establishing a long-term relationship. 

Summit County’s RFI comes a year after citizens voted in a referendum to opt out of Colorado SB 152, the state law that prevents local governments from providing service or partnering with private sector partners. More than two dozen local communities opted out of SB 152 this past fall, bringing the total to 95 Colorado communities, which have chosen to reclaim local telecommunications authority. 

Summit County Overview 

Summit County (pop. 29,000) is nestled among the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies and is about an hour’s drive from the Denver metro area. About 80 percent of the county’s 630 square miles are federal public land; its governmental roots date back to...

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