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Montrose Asks Voters to Take Back Authority to Establish A Telecommunications Utility
Colorado communities continue to seek to restore local authority for telecommunications. In April's election, elected officials of Montrose will ask voters to approve a measure that gives the municipality the right to establish a telecommunications utility.
Centennial, a Denver suburb, approved a ballot initiative last fall to use city fiber resources as a way to provide indirect telecommunications services. Centennial's community leaders want to create the most business friendly environment as possible to spur economic development.
Montrose is taking a similar approach, although the language on this ballot does not limit the City to "indirect services." Elected officials have not mentioned the desire to provide any specific services yet, but the language of the ballot question suggests they do not want limited possibilities.
The City Council approved the following language for the April 1, 2014 ballot:
"Without increasing taxes, shall the citizens of the City of Montrose Colorado re-establish their City's right to provide all services restricted since 2005 by Title 29, article 27 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, described as "advanced services," "telecommunications services" and "cable television services," including any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, utilizing community owned infrastructure including but not limited to the existing fiber optic network, either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, to potential subscribers that may include telecommunications service providers, residential or commercial users within the City?"
A Montrose Daily Press covered the decision:
“We’ve been working on improving our broadband in the community for quite some time,” Virgil Turner, city director of innovation and citizen engagement, said. “The city has recognized that broadband is an area where we are not on equal footing with the Front Range.”
The city sees the lack of broadband connectivity as such a hindrance, particularly in the business sector, that it is ready to explore options to provide that service itself, either directly or through a public private partnership.
In 2005, Colorado's state legislature passed new rules that prevented municipalities from providing any telecommunications services unless the community passes a referendum reclaiming the authority. As we saw in Longmont, large incumbents use their deep pockets to launch astroturf campaigns, media blitzes, and price gimmicks to mislead the community into a negative result.
Montrose, home to about 15,000 people, is on the far west of the state in Montrose County. Elected officials know that lack of broadband is a hindrance to schools, government, and the business community. Like other rural communities who have been left behind by large providers, Montrose wants to retain a quality workforce by bringing employers to the area. From the article:
“Those communities like Montrose have a different motivation than do the incumbent telecommunication providers,” Turner said. “Our motivation is that we have a great quality of life here, but our lack of broadband availability ... is degrading that quality of life. It’s forcing people to move to the areas where they can get the level of service they need. We see that as something that we can’t stand for.”
The language of the ballot measure clearly eliminates a tax increase as part of the initiative. According to the article, general support is strong:
“I don’t think it’s a tough sell,” [Mayor Judy Ann Files] said. “We can expect some opposition from the big corporations; it’s the big companies that have the state of Colorado tied down.”