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Colorado Communities Opting Out: The List Grows...and Grows...and Grows
Recently, Christopher spoke with Glenwood Springs, Colorado, about their venture into providing high-quality Internet access for the community. They were, to our knowledge, the first Colorado community to pass a referendum reclaiming local telecommunications authority. The voters in Glenwood Springs chose to opt out of SB 152 and reclaim that authority in 2008.
Last fall was a banner season for local communities deciding to no longer be limited by the state restrictions borne out of big cable lobbying. More than four dozen municipalities and counties voted on the issue and all of them [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary], many with huge margins. In the spring of this year, nine more towns joined the fray, including Mancos, Fruita, and Orchard City. There are also over 20 counties and number of school districts that have taken the issue to voters and voters responded overwhelmingly saying, “YES! WE WANT LOCAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS AUTHORITY!”
Most of these communities have not expressed an intent to invest in publicly owned infrastructure, but a few places are engaged in feasibility studies, are raising funding, or even in the midst of projects. For most of them, the question of autonomy was the overriding issue - local communities want to be the ones to make the decisions that will impact them at home.
Estes Park, Colorado, to Ask Voters to Reclaim Authority in February
The recent Colorado elections in Boulder, San Miguel County, Yuma County, Rio Blanco County, Wray, Yuma, Red Cliff, and Cherry Hills Village have inspired Estes Park. According to a recent Trail Gazette article, the northern town will hold a special election in February to ask voters to reclaim telecommunications authority. Approximately 5,800 people live in Estes Park.
The local Estes Park Economic Development Corporation (EDC) adopted a resolution in August urging the town council to take the issue to the voters reports the Trail Gazette. The council voted unanimously to support that idea.
"This resolution resulted from an extensive investigation into how to achieve a key goal in the Town's 2014 strategic plan: 'to encourage optimal use of the Platte River Power Authority's and Town's fiber optic infrastructure,' " [EDC's David] Batey said.
"We must take back the Town's right to decide the best way to provide competitive broadband," Batey said.
"Like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life," stated the EDC.
The town and the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) share ownership of a fiber optic network between Estes Park and nearby Loveland. The ring was installed about 10 years ago for operation of the PRPA Transmission and Substation Electric System. Flooding in 2013 eliminated the other telecommunications infrastructure connecting Estes Park to the outside world, so there is no redundancy.
The City leases several of its fibers to Level 3 for a little over $1,600 per month but connectivity in town varies. Some areas rely on dial-up while others have DSL. There are also several smaller Wi-Fi providers working in the area.
After Local Communities Reclaim Authority, Comcast Turns Up Speed In Colorado
On November 4th, voters in several Colorado communities decided to reclaim local authority to provide telecommunications services. As Coloradans celebrated their steps toward self-reliance, Comcast felt a little quiver in its cowboy boots. KMGH in Denver is now reporting that Comcast plans to double Internet speeds at no extra charge for some Colorado customers. Customers now signed up for download speeds of 25 Mbps or 50 Mbps will see their speeds double at no extra charge by the end of the year.
KMGH reporter Ryan Tronier also notes that the recent election may have played a part in Comcast's decision to turn up the speed:
While the doubling of internet speeds is great news for Comcast customers, the move may not be as benevolent as it seems.
Comcast's announcement comes on the heels of seven Colorado cities and counties deregulating restrictive internet laws during the midterm elections.
As many of our readers know, SB152 was [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] in 2005 and prevents local governments from establishing telecommunications utilities unless voters approve an exemption. Exemptions passing in Boulder, Wray, Yuma, Cherry Hills Village, Red Cliff, Yuma County, San Miguel County, and Rio Blanco County appear to have been inspired by similar ballot measures years prior in Centennial, Montrose, and Longmont. Longmont is well into deploying its FTTH network.
Republicans and Democrats Alike Restore Local Authority in Colorado
Yesterday, Colorado voters in three counties and five municipalities were asked whether they want to restore local government authority to build or partner for broadband networks. A 2005 law, lobbied for heavily by incumbents, prevents local municipalities from offering telecommunications services, even if they already have the infrastructure in place.
According to the law, local communities can ask voters to reclaim local authority to establish a telecommunications utility. We have seen Longmont, Montrose, and Centennial take action in prior years. In Longmont, the community has successfully established a telecommunications utility and the community is loving it.
An interesting wrinkle in Colorado is the wide support across the state - communities that vote heavily for Democrats supported local authority for municipal networks in similar numbers that those in areas voting heavily for Republicans.
In Yuma County, where approximately 85% of voters supported the GOP Senate candidate, the measure to reclaim local authority [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] with 72% of the vote. Yuma County overwhelmingly voted for the Republican candidate for Governor and every race in Yuma County went to a Republican candidate. The cities of Yuma and Wray within the County also had their own ballot initiatives to reclaim local authority; those ballot measures also passed by 72%.
Rio Blanco County's numbers were very similar to those in Yuma County. The only exception was that their ballot question 1A on reclaiming local authority passed with 76%. Again, every race went to a Republican candidate in Rio Blanco County.
Boulder and Yuma Turn to Voters to Reclaim Authority
Two more Colorado communities will be deciding whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority this fall. Colorado State Bill 152 took away local authority in 2005 but voters in several areas of the state are taking it back. Readers will recall Centennial voters passed the measure 3:1 last fall and Montrose voters approved a similar measure in the spring.
Boulder is home to the Boulder Research and Administration Network (BRAN), a fiber network that currently serves the city, the University of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. A conduit network is already in place and an I-Net connects dozens of municipal facilities. Community leaders decided last summer it made good sense to re-establish the authority needed to make the most of existing resources. The Daily Camera recently spoke with a ballot measure 2C supporter:
"This allows the city of Boulder to determine what to do with a resource that already exists and is already paid for," said Timothy O'Shea, a member of the Yes on 2C steering committee who has worked with Boulder start-ups.
"It will not be the City Council determining that we'll have municipalization of those services," O'Shea said. "Yes on 2C is not about that. It's about the beginning of a dialogue and getting out from under a state law that prevents us from innovating with our existing resources."
Boulder's ballot measure [PDF] reads: