Comcast Tries To Stop Colorado City From Even Talking About Building Its Own Broadband Network
from the Comcast-knows-what's-best-for-you dept
We’ve noted for years how giant ISPs have literally written and purchased protectionist laws in more than twenty states restricting towns and cities from building their own broadband networks. Many of these laws even go so far as to restrict these towns from striking public/private partnerships with companies like Google Fiber, often one of the only options for areas incumbent ISPs have declared not-profitable enough to serve. In this way giant ISPs get their cake and eat it too: they don’t have to expand service, but make sure nobody else can either.
Colorado’s SB 152 is one such law. 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 (an idea often lacking in ISPs’ daily business efforts), though it’s abundantly clear the real goal was to prop up and protect the dysfunctional broadband duopoly status quo from anything vaguely resembling change or competition.
However, 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 and ignore the restrictions SB 152 imposes. Rather unsurprisingly, residents angry at substandard service from the likes of Comcast have been overwhelmingly opting out of the restrictive state law. Again — not because they think building a network will be fun — but because they’re so disgusted by incumbent service they feel they have no other option.
Fort Collins is the latest city to this week vote on opting out of SB 152. To be clear: opting out of the law’s restrictions only opens the door to the possibility of building a network or striking public/private partnerships. But the incumbent ISPs like Comcast that bought the law have spent more than $200,000 to prevent that conversation from even happening:
“Politics is an expensive game, but when an oligopoly is at stake, there’s no price tag too high for Big Telecom. In Fort Collins, Colorado?a town of about 150,000 north of Denver?Big Telecom has contributed more than $200,000 to a campaign opposing a ballot measure to simply consider a city-run broadband network. It’s the latest example of how far Big Telecom is willing to go to prevent communities from building their own internet and competing with the status quo.
“It’s been wild,” said Glen Akins, a Fort Collins advocate for municipal broadband. “We’re overwhelmed by the amount of money the opposition is spending.”
That spending, which is breaking local records, has included TV spots — funded by an ISP policy front group — that make numerous, misleading arguments about what locals are actually voting on. The ads try to conflate being allowed to have a conversation about the idea with actually moving forward with a plan. The ads also falsely claim that if the city of 150,000 moves forward with such a project, road repair, affordable housing, and other priorities in the city would suffer (also not true since the project would be funded by service revenues and utility bonds that couldn’t be used for these other services):
What’s Comcast so afraid of? The idea of city-owned or public/private partnerships have opened the door to open access networks in many cities, where ISPs come in and actually compete over core infrastructure. Like Ammon, Idaho, for example, where users can switch between multiple ISPs in seconds if they’re not getting the speeds, prices or customer service they’d prefer. Actual competition obviously would mean a notable erosion in Comcast revenues:
“Evidence from other cities suggests that a real choice in broadband services could reduce Comcast’s revenues by millions of dollars per month,” the group, which advocates for municipal broadband projects, wrote in a policy brief. “Competition in Fort Collins would cost Comcast between $5.4 million and $22.8 million per year. In Seattle, robust competition would cost between $20 million and $84 million per year.”
It’s worth repeating that Comcast could prevent towns and cities from going this route by simply offering better service and lower prices. But in a country where incumbent telecom companies all but own state legislatures (as we just saw in Michigan), it’s often much less expensive to write and purchase a law. Or in this case, spend half a million dollars to mislead consumers, preventing them from even having a conversation about creative paths toward better, faster, cheaper broadband.