The Number of Colorado Cities Restoring Local Authority Continues to Grow

The Centennial State has been a leader over the last fifteen years in showcasing how communities can take back local authority from restrictive state laws which place barriers in front of municipal broadband efforts. More than 150 communities in the state have done so since the 2005 law went into effect, and cities like Longmont, Loveland, and Fort Collins continue to show the value of investing in local broadband infrastructure and bringing the service residents, businesses, and community anchor institutions need. 

Cortez, Colorado (pop. 8,700) is the latest municipality to join the club. In a referendum last month, residents raised their hands to opt out of SB 152, with 78 percent in favor. 

Afterwards, former Mayor Karen Sheek remarked that “To move forward on finding solutions to improve Internet service for our community, we need the exemption. It is the next natural step." Cortez General Services Director Rick Smith said that broadband service remains weak outside the "downtown corridor, in schools, libraries and government offices."

The city already operates an I-Net for public facilities, businesses, and anchor institutions (listen to Christopher talk with General Services Director Rick Smith on the podcast about it).

What's next for the city remains to be seen, but others in the state are forging ahead. Four other communities - Berthoud (pop. 7,200), Mead (4,600), Johnstown (15,000), and Milliken (7,200) - have banded together together to perform a survey of residents as a prelude to taking next steps. Berthoud opted out of the preemption law last November (along with Denver and Englewood) while Johnstown did so in April 2020 and Mead opted out in the fall of 2019.

According to the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor, the survey will further drive an upcoming feasiblity study designed to explore the range of options open to the cities. Each each will contribute based on its population: "Johnstown has agreed to contribute 41 percent of the cost. Milliken has committed to 22 percent, and Berthoud will kick in 24 percent while Mead will contribute 13 percent."

The four communities are clustered within a handful of miles of each other and situated between Loveland and Longmont, making the intergovernmental effort a commonsense approach to improving regional connectivity. The survey website lays out the goals for any resulting project:

Inclusivity - To provide the opportunity for high speed broadband service to all residents, businesses, schools, local government, non-profit organizations, healthcare service providers, and multi-tenant properties within the four (4) communities and possibly the areas between the four Towns that are unincorporated.

High Speed – Requires at least 1 Gigabit symmetrical broadband connection for residential and up to 10 Gigabit symmetrical broadband connection for non-residential, with the ability to potentially grow into 25/50GbE or other service types available in the next five to seven years.

Reliable – The service needs to be able to be depended upon as it will have many uses requiring high availability. Some examples are businesses - both storefront and home, residents, students, and healthcare professionals. A focus on redundancy should be a key element in the study to ensure reliability.

Reasonable cost – The monthly charges for such service should be reasonable and affordable. Concurrently, it should also provide for the ability to meet debt service obligations should construction of a network be a feasible option.

Residents can fill out the survey here. For more on the progress being made by Colorado communities, check out past episodes of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, where Christopher and guests unpack the 2005 law and its consequences, and with representatives from places like Fort Collins, Longmont, and Rio Blanco.