Colorado Cities Keep Voting To Build Their Own Broadband Networks

from the roll-your-own dept

So we've long mentioned how incumbent ISPs like Comcast have spent millions of dollars quite literally 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 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.

Late last year in Fort Collins, for example, 57.15% of locals voted to open the door to community-run broadband despite Comcast and Centurylink spending nearly $1 million on misleading ads claiming the plan would cause the city to fall into disrepair. And this week, the city council voted unanimously on a plan that will help deliver cheap, ultra-fast (gigabit) fiber broadband to most city residents. Under the proposal, the city will take out a $1.8 million loan to help the local utility with startup costs, with expansion funded by bonds:

"Last night's three unanimous votes begin the process of building our city's own broadband network," Glen Akins, a resident who helped lead the pro-municipal broadband campaign, told Ars today. "We're extremely pleased the entire city council voted to support the network after the voters' hard fought election victory late last year. The municipal broadband network will make Fort Collins an even more incredible place to live."

With the Trump administration's assault on net neutrality, broadband privacy rules and pretty much all meaningful oversight of telecom duopolies, interest in these kinds of creative solutions as an escape from the broken telecom market is only going to grow. In Fort Collins, a city planning document indicates the city is promising to operate a network that actually adheres to net neutrality and avoid usage caps:

"The network will deliver a 'net-neutral' competitive unfettered data offering that does not impose caps or usage limits on one use of data over another (i.e., does not limit streaming or charge rates based on type of use). All application providers (data, voice, video, cloud services) are equally able to provide their services, and consumers' access to advanced data opens up the marketplace."

ISP lobbyists, executives, and their paid policy parrots like to paint these community broadband efforts as automatic boondoggles. In reality, they're just like any business plan, with some good and some arguably awful. But lost in this claim is the fact that ISPs are bribing state legislatures to take local infrastructure decisions out of the hands of local voters -- simply because they're terrified of anything vaguely resembling competition. Also lost is the fact that these towns and cities wouldn't be looking into these efforts if U.S. broadband wasn't such an anti-competitive, uncompetitive shitshow.

But why should ISPs like Comcast compete when it's much easier to buy awful state laws, then sue any community broadband efforts into oblivion (as Comcast attempted to do in Chattanooga)? The problem for incumbent ISPs is their ham-fisted efforts to obliterate things like net neutrality is only fueling anger in communities looking for any alternative to the dysfunctional status quo.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 4:19pm

    If the people succeed,

    they could be on a Colorado Rocky Mountain high.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 4:27pm

    Century link??

    WOW, DSL..And max 7mBps..

    I wonder how much they would have spent IF' that had jumped into the city and JUST DONE THE WORK..

    Colorado is interesting as there are NOT that many METRO areas. Its smaller towns and so forth, mean that Century link has LITTLE TO DO..

    BUT the best part is the USERS of Centruy link, will have to PAY abit extra for all the BS Century link did..to stop 1 town from doing THEIR OWN THING..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2018 @ 1:37am

      Re: Century link??

      Your posts would be much more interesting, credible and readable iF THey wErEn'T aLL fULl oF randOM caPItalISatioN LiKe sOme Edgy deIaNtART-dWeLLIng TeENagER ON acId.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 15 Jan 2018 @ 11:38am

        Re: Re: Century link??

        Thank you for expressing an opinion..
        Do I care? Probably not.
        For a language that was Re-hashed by Mr. Webster, WHO hated the english language..and changed many words, meanings, and Pronunciations..

        Lets ad that our language is a conglomerate of Many languages and the RULEs from those languages that dont make sense in any other language..

        It always entertains me when we Bring another word over from French, and CAUSE it uses the same letters, we dont change it to AMERICAN(not english). and we have to learn another word that does not mix with 6 other Rules of language..
        This language has no inference or common expression that can be handled with JUST typing.. Like opening a random book to a random page and TRYING to figure out the expression and meaning of what is being said. Is is exasperated, Excited, Condoling, ???.. Even with the words above you cant tell any expression except that Im typing words..

        So good luck with your language...Mine is JUST weird.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 12 Jan 2018 @ 4:33pm

    Next the big telecom lobbyists are going to fight to get that referendum loophole removed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Drauer, 13 Jan 2018 @ 6:42am

      Re: Crooked Politicians

      OK, so the politicians running Ft Collins are hiring some private company to build/operate that city's government-owned ISP (at great expense to taxpayers). That selected private company can't do that on its own -- because corrupt Colorado state politicians have been bribed (by big ISP's) to legally block "private" competition.

      The basic problem here is OBVIOUSLY corrupt state politicians. COMCAST is helpless in this without crooked government officials.
      State government failed the citizens of Colorado and other states, but somehow ONLY Big ISP's are the core problem?

      Fix the fundamental 'government' problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 7:08am

        Re: Re: Crooked Politicians

        How does one "fix" a human problem and what does the word fix mean in this context?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Michael Long (profile), 13 Jan 2018 @ 8:49am

        Re: Re: Crooked Politicians

        "at great expense to taxpayers"

        Which part about funded by a bond issue was unclear?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Bergman (profile), 13 Jan 2018 @ 10:09am

          Re: Re: Re: Crooked Politicians

          Shh. You're stepping on his narrative about public sector being bad.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 11:13am

          Re: Re: Re: Crooked Politicians

          How does one purchase these bonds?
          I'm interested, could be a stable return.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 2:03pm

          Re: Re: Re: Crooked Politicians

          bonds ain't free money; principal, interest, and administrative costs must be paid back by somebody. Borrowing large sums of money comes with risks.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 3:21pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Crooked Politicians

            Who said it was?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2018 @ 1:21pm

              Re: bonds

              'Michael Long'

              He apparently thinks municipal bonds are independent of the taxing authority of the municipal government issuing them. Every Ft Collins resident is now on the tax-hook for about $1,000 each for that $150M municipal bond/borrowing authorization, but most adults there did not vote for its approval.

              state and local governments cannot create money from thin air, as the Federal government routinely does.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 15 Jan 2018 @ 3:19pm

        Re: at great expense to taxpayers

        Funny you should say that, because it turns out city-owned ISPs seem better at explaining their costs.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Andrew D. Todd, 15 Jan 2018 @ 4:29pm

          So do the Finance Math.

          So that thousand dollars is mostly for burying ducts, which are durable. You can always run new cables though them if you like. So you pay for the ducts over twenty years, at, say, five percent interest.. So work out the spreadsheet-- that works out to six dollars and sixty-nine cents a month.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2018 @ 4:56pm

            Re: So do the Finance Math.

            so what's the labor cost for "burying ducts" ?

            AT&T dug full, deep trenches across every front yard in my neighborhood with hundreds of homes -- all dug with pick & shovel manually

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Andrew D. Todd, 15 Jan 2018 @ 5:28pm

              Re: Re: So do the Finance Math.

              Well, the rule of thumb is ten dollars per foot. Comcast was claiming twenty for work which, in hindsight, they didn't want to do. A thousand dollars per person, say three thousand per household, might work out to anywhere between a hundred and fifty feet, and three hundred feet between houses. "Of course you mileage may vary..." There is a device called a Ditch Witch, a kind of underground chain saw. It only works in certain kinds of soils, however. The costs would probably depend substantually on whether you could use a Ditch Witch.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Andrew D. Todd, 15 Jan 2018 @ 5:03pm

            Re: So do the Finance Math.

            Ah, Lawrence D’Oliveiro, that comment should have been directed to the anonymous coward above you. I just got in from a cold walk, partly over ice,, with a heavy packload, just ahead of a snowstorm, and am somewhat jagged in consequence. However, with a cheese-steak inside me, I feel rather more coherent.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2018 @ 4:48pm

          Re: Re: at great expense to taxpayers

          well,no. Your referenced Harvard study does not demonstrate that. The study was a very narrow, superficial review of 40 (non-randomly selected) community-owned (not all municipally owned) ISPs offering fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service. Study results suggested that Municipal broadband networks generally offer cheaper "entry-level prices" than private Internet providers. That study did not consider taxpayer subsidies to the municipal ISP's, nor that higher tier internet customers were charged higher rates to subsidize "entry level" municipal customers.

          There is legitimate debate about the economic efficiency of municipal ISP's, as Consumer Reports noted in January 2017.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2018 @ 3:14am

            Re: Re: Re: at great expense to taxpayers

            What about the debate over getting a decent broadband service, or not getting a decent service, which is the real problem the municipal broadband is dealing with?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 16 Jan 2018 @ 2:51pm

            Re: The study was a very narrow, superficial review...

            As opposed to ... what “study” did your info come from?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 15 Jan 2018 @ 1:48pm

      Re:

      I can't speak for Colorado, but I live in Arizona and lawmakers here hate referenda, as they are used for the explicit purpose of passing laws that the legislature refuses to. (Medical marijuana and raising the minimum wage are two examples.) Our legislature is always looking for ways to make it harder for ballot referenda to pass.

      If Colorado is anything like Arizona, it won't take much persuasion from the lobbyists to convince the legislators that the referendum process needs to be "reformed".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 6:01pm

    Pedantic

    It's a scenario where ISPs get to have their cake and eat it too;

    No, it isn't. It's a scenario where ISPs get to eat their cake and have it too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 7:32pm

    Hey, Techdirt: ya need another piece to end the week, at least Geigner rambling...

    6 comments in 4 hours.

    Not that I mind. If Techdirt folds by end of this month, I have side bet that triples my winnings.

    It's just that, geez, you could go with a thousand topics, and you're only doing one piece a day, each? I don't think The Masnick even bothered today. -- How exactly do you expect to amuse the alleged 27 Bangladeshi who click in and stay long every day? -- If not for me, do it for the Bangladeshi!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 8:50pm

      Re:

      out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:02pm

      Re: Hey, Techdirt: ya need another piece to end the week, at least Geigner rambling...

      Didn’t you quit?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 13 Jan 2018 @ 10:45am

        Re: Re: Hey, Techdirt: ya need another piece to end the week, at least Geigner rambling...

        Nah, he just stopped logging in before posting. People were so used to him having nothing worth reading that they'd just downvote him as soon as they saw the name.

        So he posts as an anonymous coward now. He still gets downvoted into oblivion, since his writing style is distinctive. But it takes a minute or two now.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:03pm

      Re: Hey, Techdirt: ya need another piece to end the week, at least Geigner rambling...

      27 Bangladeshis and one dumbass.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 7:34am

    I have no idea how many of these ISP-crafted bits of law there are on the state level, but doesn't it make more sense to actually spend your energy/money/lobbying on one place instead of up to 50 places?

    Numbers-wise, the ISPs made "killing" federal Net Neutrality a lot more work for themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 8:17am

    Battle Plan

    The battle plan for the future is fixed wireless to the block and fiber to the homes on that block. This will work in urban and rural settings, lower costs, and bypass the incumbents.

    TOtB.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Michael Long (profile), 13 Jan 2018 @ 8:53am

      Re: Battle Plan

      Who owns the block infrastructure? Laid the fiber? Maintains the service? Who updates existing neighborhoods?

      Seems to me you're simply setting up another "last mile" problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 9:21am

      Re: Battle Plan

      Sorry to break it to you, but wireless doesn't work well in "urban" settings without a lot of extra work. The reason being the metal skeletons of buildings block signals very effectively. Communications companies are better served in urban areas with underground cabling (which is what they already do) between distribution nodes rather than the distribution to last mile nodes being wireless.

      The only place where wireless telecommunications makes physical and economic sense as an infrastructure is in rural areas where the costs of deploying cabling as physical infrastructure is higher than the income from those areas. The problem comes in when telecoms try to use these wireless systems for emergency communications as well as data transfer. Unfortunately, it's been proven these wireless communications networks can't be depended on for emergency communications. See what happened after hurricane Sandy in the New York/New Jersey area for reference. So with that caveat, data services could be served reasonably well, but not emergency services.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 3:52pm

      Re: Battle Plan

      fixed wireless to the block and fiber to the homes on that block

      Why does everybody think that wireless, which has a limited capacity and no ability to use the same spectrum multiple times between end points is a good alternative to a technology that has a much or more capacity per individual fiber, and can use multiple fibers between end points. What you are proposing is the equivalent of feeding a firehouse via a garden hose.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2018 @ 9:34am

        Re: Re: Battle Plan

        no ability to use the same spectrum multiple times between end points

        Depends how you define "end points". 2 parallel laser-pairs could double the connection speed of wireless the same way they could with fiber (except with a bit more spacing to account for divergence).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2018 @ 11:47am

          Re: Re: Re: Battle Plan

          The biggest consideration for laser links, ignoring rain and fog cutting the beam, is the rigidity of the mountings, and the field of view of the receiving optics. The taller th building, the more the beam will go walk abouts when the wind starts blowing, especially if it is wood or steel framed. The beam angle of the receiving optics, with Internet being two way, determines the spatial separation between parallel beams.

          Add a second beam is easy when it is an isolated system between two points, but much harder to do in a metropolitan area, when you have hundreds of end points in relatively close proximity. That is also where mesh networking runs into big problems because of the amount of traffic to and from nodes that provide the connection to the Internet backbone.

          Try laying out a system, with say 5 degrees or 30 foot as required separation, for a city street, ensuring that that 5 degree beam has an opaque stop between it and any other beams in that arc beyond its target end point.

          Free air propagation, even with tight beams, does not scale, well, and mainly scales by reducing the range and increasing the access points, ala cellular technology, where cell tower density is creeping towards one per city block per carrier.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 18 Jan 2018 @ 1:52pm

    Taxpayers pay either way

    Holding up the bugaboo of taxpayer subsidized municipal broadband totally forgets the subsidies the incumbents have gotten for decades and not produced... you know that little business practice called fraud.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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