Tag: "sb 152"

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 Christopher Barich

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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Posted August 18, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

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 June 12, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

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 May 24, 2017 by Kate Svitavsky

After tentative plans to work with a private sector partner fell through, Fort Collins is still moving forward. The city wants the option to provide residents and businesses with gigabit connectivity as a municipal service, necessitating a ballot initiative in November to change the city charter. The ballot initiative would allow the Light and Power Utility to provide Internet services and may also ask voters to consent to use municipal bonds to fund the Internet network infrastructure project.

The city estimates the project will cost between $125 million and $140 million and will cover the entire city and its “growth management area,” which is land that is expected to be annexed in the future.

A Long And Winding Road

In 2015, voters in Fort Collins reclaimed local authority by opting out of SB 152, which discourages cities from investing in Internet infrastructure in order to offer services themselves or with private sector partners. The pro-local sentiment was so popular that 83 percent of voters supported opting out.

From there, the city pursued a partnership with Axia. However, the Canadian company pulled out of discussions with Fort Collins and a similar deal with Bloomington, Indiana. Axia’s parent company, Partners Group, was reportedly hesitant to enter the U.S. market and compete with large, incumbent providers Comcast and CenturyLink. Axia Networks USA was operating MassBroadband 123 in Massachussetts and filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, leaving the state searching for another company to manage the statewide fiber-optic network.

The city is still open to partnering with a private sector partner, but is leaning toward providing services through their existing Light and Power Utility. We've seen other deals between municipalities fall apart when they seemed like sure things, which indicates that municipalities must always take care when establishing a relationship with a potential partner.

Santa Cruz and Cruzio were well on their way to entering into a partnership, but the project did not...

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Posted April 7, 2017 by Hannah Trostle

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 February 9, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

A Colorado Senate committee will soon hear SB 42, a bill to repeal the requirement that local communities hold a referendum to reclaim local telecommunications authority. SB 42 is on the calendar in the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee for Monday, February 13th.

Supporting This One

In preparation for the hearing, a grass roots effort to pass the bill has taken shape. In January, the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties, Inc., prepared a fact sheet and talking points and asked their members to disseminate the information. They also sent out information on how interested parties can testify remotely if they can’t get to Denver.

The Economic Development Council of Colorado (EDCC) drafted a letter to the Chair and members of the committee. The letter pointed out that publicly owned networks can fill in the gaps left by national providers that don't bring service to every business and residence in the state. The Council also described how SB 152, the 2005 bill that put the referendum requirement in place, limits the rights of local communities and increases prices in Colorado.

The EDCC’s letter also pointed out the importance of high-quality connectivity to a 21st century economy and how local communities will lose people and businesses when it isn’t available. The EDCC encouraged the members of the committee to pass the bill to repeal the cumbersome and onerous referendum requirement:

As a part of the EDCC legislative platform, we believe that it is our role to help ensure access to utilities and broadband for predictable and reliable services to businesses in rural and urban areas. SB17-042 would be a significant and important piece of legislation that will help Colorado achieves that imperative economic development goal.  

Check out the full text of the EDCC letter and the talking points that support SB 42. 

Give 'Em A Call, Send 'Em An Email

If you live in Colorado and want to contribute your voice to support this bill, a list of the committee members is available...

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Posted February 4, 2017 by Hannah Trostle

The Colorado Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee will soon consider the proposed repeal of the state’s restriction on municipal networks. Under current state law, known as SB 152, local governments are not permitted to pursue a municipal network without first holding a referendum.

The Senate Business, Labor, & Technology committee will hold a hearing on the bill on February 13, 2017 at 2 p.m. The full text of the proposed repeal can be found on the Colorado General Assembly’s website.

Accepting Remote Testimony

Folks around Colorado can make their opinion heard without having to trek to the capitol. The committee will accept remote testimony on the issue. Those who wish to speak must register online in advance and choose from specific locations that have reliable connectivity. All of the remote testimony locations are colleges: Adams State, Mesa State, Fort Lewis College, Otero Junior College, and Trinidad State.  

Save Money, Restore Local Control

Senators Kerry Donovan and Lucia Guzman proposed SB 42 to repeal the onerous requirements of SB 152 and to restore local control to the city and county governments. Several communities that Senator Donovan represents have already held expensive referenda on the issue, and all have reclaimed local authority.

At this point, more than a third of all counties in the state have “opted out” of SB 152. To learn more about the state restriction and how almost one hundred communities have restored local authority, listen to the the Building Local Power podcast Episode 5

Posted January 17, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

As legislators in Virginia and Missouri consider bills attacking municipal networks, two Colorado legislators have introduced a bill to repeal its restrictive state law.

Take It Away

Democratic Senators Kerry Donovan and Lucia Guzman’s bill, SB 42, calls for “the repeal of existing restrictions on the ability of a local government to provide certain electronic communications services.” The bill is now in the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee.

The bill would eliminate the need for local communities to hold expensive referendums to ask voters to opt out of SB 152, a bill passed in 2005 and lobbied heavily by national providers. When SB 152 passed, it effectively stole local authority from local communities who wanted to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to invest in local Internet infrastructure. By opting out, communities reclaim local telecommunications authority. 

The Sponsors

Donovan represents several counties that have already opted out of SB 152, such as Pitkin, Gunnison and Eagle, in addition to several others that are still under the control of the law. Guzman is the Senate Minority Leader and represents Denver County, which has not yet addressed the opt out question. Together they represent bother urban and rural regions.

Voters Want Out

Since 2008, ninety-five communities in Colorado have held expensive referendums and all chose to opt out. Opting out of SB 152 does not necessarily mean that a municipality or local government intends to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. A number of communities have expressed that their intention is to simply reclaim a right taken away from the state in 2005 so they can have more flexibility and local control. Other communities, like Rio Blanco County, Estes Park...

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