More than 121 Colorado cities and towns have now opted out of SB152, a 17-year old state law backed by telecom monopolies greatly restricting the construction and funding of community broadband alternatives. And the trend shows no sign of slowing down.
Colorado’s SB152, passed in 2005 after lobbying pressure by Comcast and Centurylink, prohibits the use of municipal or county money for broadband infrastructure without first holding a public vote. Deep pocketed monopolies know they can usually outspend municipalities, bombarding voters with misleading marketing to try and shift the vote in their favor.
But SB152 is different from most of the other 17 state preemption laws ghost written by monopolies in a bid to stifle consumer choice: it includes a clause allowing voters to opt out of the restrictions entirely. Angry at decades of market failure, Colorado towns and cities are increasingly shaking off these unnecessary shackles in a bid to improve service.
During the recent midterm elections, four additional communities (Castle Pines, Lone Tree, Pueblo and Trinidad) voted to opt out of the onerous state restrictions. With those votes, more than 121 Colorado communities have chosen to opt out of SB152, according to the latest tally by the Denver Post.
Across the country, the pandemic highlighted the essential nature of affordable fiber broadband networks. That in turn accelerated public annoyance at regional monopolies intent on maintaining a very broken, but very profitable status quo, Tim Scott, a project manager overseeing the buildout of Boulder’s broadband backbone, told the Denver Post.
“Why do we accept this duopoly of service? That’s what we’re trying to do in Boulder is to make it more competitive,” Scott said. “What the pandemic did is it brought the delivery of broadband services to the attention of every mayor.”
Opting out of the state’s counterproductive restrictions helped drive the creation of municipally owned networks like the NextLight fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in Longmont; Fort Collins' Connexion network and Loveland's Pulse Network, which recently consumated a new partnership to expand the network into unincorporated parts of Larimer County.
Those networks in turn have inspired numerous other communities to follow suit, helping expand consumer choice across the Centennial State. These alternatives are taking many forms, including cooperatives, public private partnerships, city-owned utilities, middle mile networks, or traditional municipal fiber builds. All of which wouldn’t exist if entrenched regional monopolies like Centurylink (now Lumen) or Comcast had their way.
Glenwood Springs was the first municipality to opt out of the restrictive legislation in the spring of 2008 resulting in a 140 mile city-owned fiber backbone. A bigger expansion plan is currently in the works that will dramatically boost local access to affordable gigabit fiber.
In Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) recently announced it would begin building a city-wide, open access fiber network with Ting as its first anchor tenant. City residents overwhelmingly (61 percent) voted to opt out of the restrictions embedded in SB152 back in 2017.
Longmont’s city-owned fiber network launched in 2014 now offers the city’s 90,000 residents gigabit service. The city’s first attempt to opt out of SB152 in 2009 was defeated after regional monopolies spent more than $250,000 to influence voters. A second attempt succeeded in 2011 despite those same monopolies spending more than $420,000.
All across the state, Coloradans are seeing faster, cheaper, broadband with significantly better customer service because their residents refused to be beholden by a state law that only serves one function: to protect politically-powerful regional monopolies from disruption and competition.
Unfortunately, the 17 other remaining state laws restricting community broadband provide no such opt-out clause for municipalities, leaving locals stuck with monopoly or duopoly service—and the high prices, slow speeds, spotty service, and historically terrible customer service that routinely results.
Inline image of Pulse Network truck courtesy of Sean Gonsalves