Colorado Residents Vote Overwhelmingly In Favor Of Municipal Broadband
from the deconstructing-protectionism dept
Colorado is one of roughly twenty states where incumbent ISPs like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, and AT&T have quite literally purchased protectionist state telecom laws that prohibit towns and cities from building their own broadband networks, or in some cases even partnering with private industry to improve existing ones. Only after a fifteen year nap did the FCC recently announce it was going to pre-empt such laws in Tennessee and North Carolina, something that was immediately met with hand-wringing and lawsuits from the broadband industry and its allies.
In Colorado last week voters got the chance to side step that state’s awful protectionist state law, SB 152. SB 152 was a 2005 product of lobbying from Comcast and CenturyLink, and required communities jump through numerous hoops should they want to simply make decisions regarding their own, local infrastructure. Like all such laws the ISP pretense was that they were simply looking to protect taxpayers from financial irresponsibility, though it’s abundantly clear the real goal was to prop up and protect the dysfunctional broadband duopoly status quo.
Over the last few years ballot initiatives have allowed several Colorado communities like Boulder, Montrose, and Centennial to take back their right to determine their infrastructure needs for themselves. Last week 43 Colorado communities – 26 cities and towns; 17 counties — all voted overwhelmingly to also ignore Comcast and CenturyLink’s law moving forward. And in all of them, the vote wasn’t even close:
“This year, results were similar as the majority of voters supported local measures with over 70 percent of ballots cast. In Durango, over 90 percent of voters chose to opt out of restrictive SB 152; Telluride voters affirmed their commitment to local authority when over 93 percent of votes supported measure 2B. Many communities showed support in the mid- and upper- 80th percentile.”
ISPs were able to pass twenty such laws in large part because, by framing community broadband efforts as “socialism run amok” and a dangerous infringement on free enterprise, they were able to distract the public with its own partisan bickering. But the reality is that there’s nothing partisan about letting communities decide for themselves their best path forward. Similarly, most municipal broadband networks have been built in Conservative cities, suggesting that wanting next-generation networks in the face of market failure has pretty sensible bipartisan support.
Again, these networks wouldn’t be getting built if locals were happy with their broadband options. But instead of competing and improving their networks, mega-ISPs threw campaign contributions at state legislatures, who were more than happy to help protect these uncompetitive broadband fiefdoms and ensure these contributions kept flowing. Fortunately, with the rise of Google Fiber and other ad-hoc deployments (like from Tucows) these bills have seen renewed attention, thanks to the fact that low ROI areas need public/private cooperation if they’re even to be updated.
Of course Colorado’s awful state law still exists, and it’s absurd that Colorado towns and cities have to head to the ballot box (and spend additional money on referenda) simply to reclaim their local rights. Still, between the FCC’s attempt to set precedent in North Carolina and Tennessee, and Colorado’s decision to stand up to the mega-ISPs, it looks like fifteen years of apathy to this kind of broadband protectionism is finally coming to an end. If you’re curious, check out this great map by Community Networks — detailing which towns have embraced community broadband, and which states have passed protectionist laws.