Local Voices Support Muni Telecom Utility In Fort Collins

With election season fast approaching, Fort Collins is buzzing with the possibility of municipal broadband entering the quaint Colorado town. In addition to talk among neighbors, advocates supporting the measure are expressing themselves with letters to the local media.

If ballot measure 2B is voted through, it would allow the city charter to be amended to include high-speed Internet as a municipal utility. It’s been two years since Fort Collins and other Colorado communities opted out of SB 152. And this November they’ll vote on whether municipal broadband should be an option for their community.

Talk of Muni Broadband Bubbles Up

Recent op-eds have raised the ballot issue and unflinchingly come down in support for municipal broadband. Zach Shelton, a Fort Collins dentist explained in his piece that

In order to continue to grow and facilitate healthy families and communities, we must have access to reliable and fast Internet that can connect our medical record system and servers between offices. Broadband is the glue that connects all of us in the medical field and has increasingly become an equally important tool in our doctor bag.

David Austin-Groen admits his initial apathy to the municipal broadband debate, but concedes, finding foresight, and gets right to the heart of the problem:

We simply cannot rely on the private sector to provide this service, if they ever do, and we certainly can’t live on hope that they will act in the community's best interest.

Community members and organizations have begun a lively debate over the issue. The Citizens Broadband Coalition is actively advocating for a yes vote on the ballot measure. Colorado State University recently hosted a presentation and panel discussion that shed light on both sides of the debate.

This isn't the first that locals have written to the news to show that they believe Fort Collins is capable of offering high-quality Internet access. This summer, resident Ray Franklin wrote in to compliment the city's knowledgeable staff. He pointed out that personnel will be a major factor if the community moves forward with the municipal telecommunications utility. "Does the city have the right technical staffing for the job? My answer is an unqualified yes."

Tim Tillson of Fort Collins urged voters to look to the future when considering how to vote:

The argument that 1 gigabit is more than any application needs is like arguing that Los Angeles doesn't need four-lane freeways because no car is four lanes wide. It's about total traffic, and how demand will grow as internet applications needing higher capacity are deployed nationwide.

Competition is Key

David Austin-Groer has taken heed to this essential aspect of the community-owned fiber model and emphasizes its ability to also strengthen local economy. “Fast internet makes Fort Collins competitive, attractive to current and new businesses, and new residents to empower our local economy.”

A New Approach

Fort Collins was in talks with potential private sector partner Axia after voters opted out of SB 152, but the prospective deal fell through. With that option off the table, and with the potential pitfalls that accompany public-private partnerships, creating a publicly owned broadband utility is considered a good option. As echoed by many commentators, the town's economic viability is dependent on high-quality connectivity; passing this ballot measure would be a critical step in getting closer to that goal. The discussion will no doubt hurdle on and in the coming weeks, Fort Collins may have a new tool for building local power.