More Colorado Towns Vote Down A Comcast State Law Hamstringing Broadband Competition
from the roll-your-own dept
For years we’ve discussed how incumbent ISPs like Comcast have spent millions of dollars quite literally writing and buying shitty, protectionist laws in more than twenty states. These laws either ban or heavily hamstring towns and cities from building their own broadband networks, or in some cases from even engaging in public/private partnerships. It’s a scenario where ISPs get to have their cake and eat it too: they get to refuse to upgrade their networks in under-served areas (particularly true among telcos offering DSL), but also get to write shitty laws preventing these under-served towns from doing anything about it.
ISPs and beholden lawmakers shoveled these bills through state legislature without much challenge. But as deployments like Google Fiber began highlighting how these laws actually harm efforts to improve competition (especially restrictions on public/private partnerships, essential in lower ROI areas), passing such legislation has become more challenging. In some states, that has forced companies like AT&T to try and hide competition-killing provisions in unrelated traffic or other bills.
This dance of dysfunction has been particularly interesting in Colorado, however. While lobbyists for Comcast and CenturyLink managed to convince state leaders to pass such a law (SB 152) in 2005, the legislation contains a provision that lets individual Colorado towns and cities ignore the measure with a simple referendum. With frustration mounting over sub-standard broadband and awful customer service, more than 86 cities and towns and more than 30 counties have already overturned the law as it applies to their localities.
While votes this week are still being counted (warning: adblock blocker) dozens more colorado towns are expected to follow suit this week. That includes Fort Collins, which this week voted to approve $142 million in revenue bonds to help build its own broadband network (an idea Comcast lobbyists tried to ban the city from even discussing). Six additional towns considered ballots to ignore the state law this week, and the vote totals so far aren’t even close (locals tell me yes 1568 to 347 in Firestone, Yes 634 to 69 in Frisco).
Locals, shockingly, are increasingly tired of broadband monopolies:
“If an area doesn?t have reliable, good broadband access and availability, that area is not going to thrive,? said Jud Hollingsworth, a town trustee with Lake City, a mountain town of several hundred residents that is among the most remote in Colorado. ?Residents here are saying if they could have some competition in that area, they would welcome that.”
Across the state in Limon, town manager Dave Stone said residents in his eastern plains community have been less than pleased with the internet service they get now.
?We continually hear from people who have difficulty getting the broadband service they need,? he said. ?They certainly feel there?s a need for competition in town.”
Again, ISP lobbyists (and the fauxcademics, consultants and think tankers paid to parrot ISP positions) have tried to argue that municipal broadband is a vile socialist cabal that threatens private industry and always results in failure. But that’s not only patently untrue, it obfuscates the fact that these towns and cities are only exploring this option after the telecom sector failed for more than a decade to offer fast, affordable service thanks to monopoly power and regulatory capture.
Comfy with their regional monopolies propped up by cash-compromised lawmakers, ISPs have refused to upgrade towns and cities they don’t feel will be profitable enough, quickly enough. The Trump FCC’s nonsensical “solutions” to these long-standing issues (killing privacy protections and net neutrality) have only made the problem worse, which, in turn, has only made the idea of community-owned and operated broadband networks more appealing than ever:
“(Colorado Broadband Office Executive Director Tony) Neal-Graves said some municipal leaders in Colorado were ?spooked? by the FCC?s December ruling and want to make sure they have more than just one choice of internet provider, no matter where they might be located in the state.”
Much like the state-level backlash on net neutrality, it’s another example of how cocksure ISP lobbyists didn’t quite think things through before waging their state-to-state war on competition, common sense, and public welfare.