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.

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Filed Under: colorado, competition, municipal broadband
Companies: centruylink, comcast

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2018 @ 5:04pm

    Normally I wouldn't be for Government created and controlled Broadband. But The ISP's have done it to themselves and the Government went along with them Creating these Monopolies.

    There's no real competition. There should be Comcast, TWC, and others in the same city's fighting for each user. That is how it normally works in an open free market. That doesn't exist for the Intenet which is why everyone has such poor service. prices keep on going up. Dumb CAPS trying to protect their own services.

    I'm all for stopping these city's own Government run Internet services, just as soon as the Monopolies are over and done with. There's real competition.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2018 @ 7:21am


      Only the "last mile" is a scarce resource owned by one company, so from the start you have a natural monopoly. And following options:

      • let the companies benefit from it (ripping everyone off),
      • regulate last mile access,
      • nationalise the last mile.

      What's your pick?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 4:39am

    Liberty should always win

    These legislated monopolies aren't just unamerican, they are anti-american. We the people have the right to pool our resources together.

    Not all forms of socialism are the same. In my view it's the ones that concentrate power into the few (albeit) elected officials that we need to worry about. If my neighbors and I want to form a cooperative to establish and support some infrastructure, we are fully within our rights. I've seen neighborhoods pave their roads - should this right be taken away too?

    Now, that said, there should be some controls in place to prevent these communities and municipalities from forcing any kind of content filters on their communities.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Apr 2018 @ 8:41am

    Government maintaining a service that the private sector can't or refuses to do (or do satisfactorily). Who would have told?

    The US is quickly becoming a Communist State! /s

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 9:31am

    good for them! proud of them! trump and the rest of his ass hole business backers need to take a step back and take notice of the people for a change!!

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

  • identicon
    Jim, 6 Apr 2018 @ 11:25am

    My experience in Denver

    In the Denver metro area, we have just 1 cable option (Comcast) and 1 DSL option (CenturyLink, which doesn't offer true broadband service). This duopoly has led to steadily rising rates for subscribers and (at least in CenturyLink's case) meager efforts to extend service areas and Internet speeds.

    Paid liars who argue against public alternatives know full well that there is no viable business case for more commercial providers to enter this market, due to regulatory capture that has, for example, imposed barriers to affordable sharing of cable infrastructure.

    Denver's paucity of Internet service options refutes the myth that competition arises spontaneously in markets of sufficient size. Given the degree of regulatory capture by ISPs in Colorado, moving to a public Internet model is the only way to provide quality, affordable service to underserved Coloradans.

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

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 8 Apr 2018 @ 8:21am

    Buried the lede

    How much will be spent by hundreds of cities in Colorado each having to place a referendum on the ballot to override the state law?

    How many miles of fiber could have been laid with those millions of dollars?

    The state legislature needs to reverse itself and save its cities from more needless spending on foregone referendums.

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

  • identicon
    LindaRosa, 30 Apr 2018 @ 3:36pm

    Municipal Unfair

    In Lovland, CO, the City Council wants all citizens held responsible for the mammoth debt the City will incur in setting up MB. Whether a citizen subscribes for MB or not, City Council is going to want him to pay for MB with an extra charge on his utility bills.

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

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