Colorado Voters Continue To Peck Away At State Law Restricting Community Broadband

from the build-it-and-they-will-come dept

We’ve long mentioned how incumbent ISPs like AT&T and Comcast have spent millions of dollars quite literally buying shitty, protectionist laws in around twenty states that either ban or heavily hamstring towns and cities from building their own broadband networks. In some cases these laws ban municipalities from even engaging in public/private partnerships. It’s a scenario where ISPs get to have their cake and eat it too; they often 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.

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 100 towns and cities have done so thus far. And that was before a pandemic highlighted the urgent importance of broadband for public safety.

The trend continued this month, when the vast majority of Colorado voters (82%) voted to opt out of the state law restricting community broadband. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, several other communities voted along the same lines, and more than 140 Colorado communities have done the same in the fifteen years since the Colorado law was passed:

“Two other Colorado communities ? Berthoud and Englewood ? also voted in favor of similar ballot questions, asking voters if they want to opt out of SB 152. In Berthoud, 77.3% of voters cast ballots in support of the question. In Englewood, the opt-out question passed with 79.4% of voters in favor, which will allow the city to provide Wi-Fi service in city facilities.

In the 15 years since SB 152 was passed 140 Colorado communities have opted out with resultant networks like Longmont?s NextLight as an example of a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) success story.”

While incumbent ISPs (and the regulators and lawmakers paid to love them) routinely claim community broadband is some kind of inevitable taxpayer boondoggle or nefarious affront to free speech, that’s simply never been true. Such efforts are an organic response to market failure and the lack of competition in countless markets across the United States. And data has repeatedly indicated that such projects tend to offer faster speeds and better customer service at lower, more transparent prices than incumbent cable and phone giants.

Such networks aren’t some kind of magic panacea, but they can often drive apathetic monopolies toward actually giving a damn, resulting in upgrades that wouldn’t materialize otherwise. And despite many nonsensical political narratives about community broadband being “socialism run amok,” such networks have broad bipartisan public support, and are most frequently built in Conservative areas.

Despite a lot of whining among entrenched incumbents and their army of policy voices, there’s a pretty easy way to thwart such projects: start offering better, faster, cheaper broadband service. But because that’s not profitable enough, quickly enough for Wall Street, the sector instead spends its time buying lawmakers and anti-competitive laws. In Colorado’s case, Centurylink and other backers of SB 152 likely rue the day they included an opt-out clause.

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Comments on “Colorado Voters Continue To Peck Away At State Law Restricting Community Broadband”

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21 Comments

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There is an unholy alliance between business and politics no matter what the type of government is called, socialism is no different in this regard.

I am having difficulty parsing the following, perhaps you could rephrase. Capitalism is socialism?

crony-capitalism that occurs under incumbent monopoly law is socialism

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Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I am having difficulty parsing the following, perhaps you could rephrase. Capitalism is socialism?

Primarily, you are missing the distinction that CRONY-capitalism is socialism.

Crony-capitalism is the concept whereby politically connected business will pass laws that determine which businesses will succeed, or even be permitted. Socialism is the flip-side of the coin, whereby politicians determine how businesses shall operate (this being the "social ownership" portion of the socialist equation), which in turn decides which businesses will be permitted to operate. The politician will do the whim of the lobbyist, and the lobbyist will money the politician, and together they become indistinguishable.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Primarily, you are missing the distinction that CRONY-capitalism is socialism."

A distinction (in your mind, at least), not THE distinction. Some definitions are wildly different to the one you randomly chose for yourself.

This is why American politics are always such a shitshow when that word comes up. So many of you have corrupted the definition that nobody’s sure what version of the word they’re arguing over any more.

Meanwhile, the corporation that have taken "socialise the risk, privatise the rewards" to heart and manage to get Americans to fight tooth and nail against "socialist" regulation that would stop them are laughing their assess off at useful idiots like you.

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Ben says:

"Such networks aren’t some kind of magic panacea…"

I live in Longmont, Colorado. We have municipal broadband here (I think we were the first in CO to pass a referendum and make it happen), and it actually is kind of a magic panacea. It’s cheaper and much much more reliable than Comcast or Century Link, not to mention customer service being so much better. The price is $70/mo for gigabit, and drops to $60/mo after a year. There’s a cheaper 25mb service for $40/mo.

There was a risk when we set it up that not enough residents would sign up for it and then we (the taxpaying citizens) would be on the hook for paying for the municipal bonds that fund it (as opposed revenue from subscribers paying down the bond). As I recall the city need 50% of residents to sign up or the situation runs into trouble and last I heard it was around 85% of residents use it.

It is worth mentioning though that Longmont is a very well run city. I have lived other places that I do not think could successfully manage something like this.

ECA (profile) says:

Might be a problem.

AS far as Iv seen, the Current ISP’s tend to build with what is There, already. Which means that DSL and 2 wires, means allot of work to Update the system with New wire on every pole.
Then we get into WHO owns the backbone, and Where is it. And as far as I could ascertain, Its owned by the major ISP’s. Which is abit stupid. As IT could suggest that the Backbone has been as abused as the LAst mile.
What are the odds, the Gov. paid for the Backbone to be Built up, and only sections have been? There are Many miles out there, that have nothing in them. I can see where the Cellphone system would love to Run Fiber along the freeways, but May not Drop into those smaller/larger areas where FEW are around. Just as the cellphone system, its NOT where people Arnt.(or enough people)
It took along time to get the Whole phone system installed, and the Cellphone system, also took along time. replacing and adapting this Could take time, or they could just hire tons of people to get it done, take it in the shorts for a few years for the cost, and then Come back Full speed and up to tech.

So, if the town decides to create their OWN, I would hope most of it underground/protected. They would still need to connect to a NEARBY backbone/tier 1 or 2, system which is run by the Current holder of the area. Who ever is ATT,comcast,google, whoever. And as more and more jump to Town ownership, guess who still has control? And the odds are they can Buy up the service(with enough money, as they DIDNT build it it should be allot cheaper) or just push the prices of access UP.

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