Tag: "sb 152"

Posted April 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

In Colorado last week, communities held spring elections if they needed to choose elected officials or ask voters to make decisions on local matters. In six rural communities, voters decided to join the almost 120 municipalities and counties around the state that have already voted to opt out of Colorado’s restrictive state law SB 152. Meanwhile, the General Assembly tried to help bring broadband to the state's most rural areas.

A Resounding Yes

In all six towns, the decision to reclaim local telecommunications authority far outpaced the number of voters who voted “no.” In keeping with similar measures we’ve followed during previous elections on this same question, voters want the opportunity to use their own infrastructure to improve connectivity either directly to the public or with a private sector partner. Most communities that put this issue to the voters don’t have a solid plan in place at the time it’s on the ballot, but they understand that opting out of the 2005 law is a necessary step, should they decide in the future to move ahead with a muni or public-private partnership.

The measure always passes and voters usually approve the opt out provision by a wide margin, as was the case on April 3rd. Here’s the tally:

Firestone : Yes 1568 - No 347

Frisco : Yes 634 - No 69

Lake City : Yes 222 - No 18

Limon : Yes 347 - No 92

Lyons : Yes 526 - No 139

Severence : Yes 621 - No 118

Colorado has been abuzz with activity in recent years as local communities reclaim their right to decide how they handle connectivity improvements. The developments have run into resistance from Comcast and other big national ISPs that feel their monopoly threatened. Last fall, Comcast spent close to a million dollars in a failed attempt to defeat a measure in Fort Collins as the city amended its charter to allow it to invest in a municipal network. Before it could take that step, however, the city held a referendum in the fall of 2015 to opt out of SB 152.

In addition to Fort Collins, several other communities that have opted out in recent years are moving forward....

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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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Posted February 2, 2018 by Matthew Marcus

The Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance has released a new video detailing the urgent need for fast and reliable Internet in rural Colorado. The Alliance argues that Colorado's state and local government can help solve the problem and highlights local initiatives that improved connectivity and drove economic development.

The video profiles Cortez, a small town that has incrementally built an open access fiber network to increase economic vitality while also improving community services, education, and residents’ overall standard of living. It emphasizes the ongoing problems of minimal IT infrastructure investment in rural areas and exorbitant ISP prices for unacceptable speeds. The CEO of Osprey backpacks and bags discusses how the community's fiber network was critical to the company's ability to develop its thriving online business.

The Chief Information Officer of Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Hugo, Colorado, explains the importance of telehealth for aging populations and expresses his frustrations with regional Internet monopolies and restrictive laws.

Just because we’re rural doesn’t mean we should be taken advantage of. The word fair doesn’t even compute at this point, it’s just the right thing to do. And if you’re unwilling to do it, then leave and let someone else come in and help us — or let us help ourselves.

Many communities have begun to do exactly that. Last November, 19 Colorado communities opted out of the restrictive SB 152 law that prevents municipalities from offering advanced telecommunications services to the general public, either on their own or with a partner. Since 2008, almost 129 Colorado local communities have voted to opt out of SB 152.

Watch the video and learn more in an interview with Cortez's General Service Director Rick Smith on our Broadband Bits Podcast here. For more on Colorado communities' decisions to opt out of SB 152, listen to...

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Posted January 16, 2018 by lgonzalez

Now that they have removed the weight of Colorado’s restrictive SB 152, Greeley is looking forward to future solutions to poor Internet access. In a recent letter to the local Tribune, resident Richard Reilly offered three reasons why Greeley should develop a plan to move toward municipal broadband.

Reilly’s points are:

First and foremost, net neutrality must be at the heart of a municipal broadband. As the big Internet Service Providers start to throttle specific websites that compete or offer tiered packages, Greeley must commit itself to net neutrality. One price for full Internet access. Period.

Secondly, speed needs to be a priority. Comcast and the other ISPs have received billions of dollars to build the infrastructure for gigabit speeds. If Greeley can commit to the infrastructure to offer gigabit speeds, other ISPs will struggle to survive in our city — and good riddance.

Thirdly, customer service is key.

Already On Track

Reilly’s suggestion follows the community’s decision last summer to fund a feasibility study. At the time, they expressed a hope that the study might encourage incumbents to offer better rates and services. In addition to better connectivity for the general public, Greeley’s Family and Recreation Center’s poor Internet access interfered with bookings. When the City Council decided to fund the study, they cited economic development as a key factor in finding ways to improve local connectivity.

Local Commitment

Since the City Council’s decision to fund the feasibility study, the FCC has repealed network neutrality protections and is considering lowering the speed definitions of broadband. Reilly writes that Greeley needs to engage in local action:

Greeley is in a unique position to protect its residents from a rogue administration. Despite the fact that a vast majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents support net neutrality rules, the FCC rolled back the regulations meant to protect the freedom to information in this country.

...
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Posted November 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

Voters in 18 19 Colorado communities chose local telecommunications authority with an average rate of 83 percent. In Fort Collins, voters weren’t swayed by rivers of cash Comcast threw at them in the final month leading up to a ballot issue to pave the way for local fiber optic Internet infrastructure. By a comfortable margin, ballot measure 2B passed, allowing the city to proceed as it examines ways to improve competition and connectivity.

Fort Collins Voters Say Yes To 2B

Voters chose to amend the city charter in order to give the city council the ability to authorize the municipality to offer telecommunications services as a utility, rather than taking the issue to the voters in a separate referendum. The measure passed with a comfortable margin: 57 percent of voters approved the proposal.

The city has been investigating ways to improve connectivity for several years now because CenturyLink and Comcast are only providing a patchwork of substandard services. As a forward thinking community, Fort Collins wants to be sure that they don’t pass up any economic development opportunities. City leaders also feel that a municipal network is best positioned to offer affordable Internet access as a way to create an environment that is equitable and inclusive, especially for Fort Collins schoolchildren. The city is home to Colorado State University, which needs high-quality connectivity for research purposes. When considering the city’s social, economic, and development goals, the future ability to invest in Internet infrastructure makes sense. Comcast sees the measure as potential competition, the ultimate threat.

In order to allow the City Council to, at some date in the future, authorize the city municipal utilities to provide telecommunications services, Fort Collins needs to amend its city charter. Without this amendment, the City Council will need to take the issue to the voters, rather than by granting permission via ordinance. If Fort Collins decides to work with a private sector partner to deliver services, these same restrictions apply.

As we’ve covered in recent weeks, Comcast has dumped oodles of cash into the Fort Collins race with misleading ads from an organization called Priorities...

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Posted November 3, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

Santa Clarita, California, and Larimer County, Colorado, are the next communities considering connetivity options; both are ready to begin broadband feasibility studies.

Exploring Options in Santa Clarita

Santa Clarita, California, is located within Los Angeles County just 45 minutes north of the city of Los Angeles. The city is the third-largest in the county, with a population of 213,000 residents covering 62 square miles. The city already uses a fiber network for public safety and economic development, but want to investigate how to take their investment to the next level.

According to the city’s September 2017 press release, Santa Clarita has contracted with a consulting firm to conduct their broadband feasibility study. First, they will evaluate the effectiveness of existing broadband infrastructure for businesses and community anchor institutions (CAIs). Second, they will survey community representatives, institutions, and businesses to understand their specific broadband needs, identify challenges, and propose solutions to improve access.

In 2016, the city signed a dark fiber lease agreement with a Southern Californian telecommunications provider. The ten-year contract allowed the company to provide services via publicly owned fiber optic cable originally installed for traffic controls. The intent of the agreement is to improve high-speed Internet access for local businesses.

As the press release by the City of Santa Clarita suggests, the city is looking to further expand broadband services for residents and businesses, and to enhance its own municipal efficiencies.

Larimer County After The SB 152 Opt Out

Larimer County, Colorado, is located two hours north of Denver and is the the sixth largest county in the state by population. Most of the more than 300,000 residents live in the county's more densely populated communities of Fort Collins, Loveland, and Windsor.

On November 8, 2016,...

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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 28, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

The town of Erie, Colorado Board of Trustees has commissioned a consulting firm to conduct a $65,000 Municipal Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study. The vote allocated funds to explore options for the town’s growing connectivity needs of residents, local businesses, and municipal services. 

Planning For The Future

According to the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Municipal Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study, the consulting firm will conduct a survey to measure local support for the town to invest in a community owned fiber optic network. In 2012, Erie conducted a similar residential survey, which reported that “63% of residents supported or somewhat supported efforts” for telecommunications projects.

Erie is situated in both Weld and Boulder County and is just 20 minutes northwest of Denver. According to the Town of Erie’s 2017 Community Profile, the current population is approximately 25,000 residents with over 7,000 homes but local officials expect both to grow over the next five years. By 2020, community leaders expect the population to increase by 10,000 and the number of homes to increase by more than 50 percent.

Opting Out Comes First

Before Erie can make investments in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, voters must pass a referendum to opt-out of Colorado Senate Bill 152, which prohibits local governments from either supporting directly or indirectly any advancement of telecommunication services to subscribers. Eagle County and the city of Alamosa are both putting forth an SB 152 opt-out question to a vote this fall.

During a July 12, 2017 meeting, the Erie Board of Trustees determined they would need to conduct another Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study before putting forth a...

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