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On November 8th, 2016, local voters in 26 Colorado communities chose to reclaim telecommunications authority. They voted to opt out of the state’s 2005 SB 152, the law lobbied heavily by national cable and DSL companies that prevents local governments from providing advanced services and telecommunications services to the general public. There are now 95 local communities that have opted out of SB 152.
To understand the situation in Colorado and to get a better understanding of the benefits and challenges of municipal networks, Tom Merritt and Justin Robert Young from the Daily Tech News Show (DTNS) spoke with Christopher.
The online news show streamed live on November 10th, 2016, but it is now available for you to watch. The guys get into the law, how it limits local Colorado communities, and why these local governments are asking voters to opt out. The show runs for 38:23.
This time of year, people come together to celebrate the things they are thankful for and appreciate. Here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we want to take a moment to appreciate all the communities, people, and wonderful ideas that help spread the concept of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.
A few of us looked into the cornucopia that is feeding the growth of publicly owned Internet networks and picked out some of our favorites. There are more people, places, and ideas than we could write about in one post. Nevertheless, it's always good to step back and consider how the many contributions to the Connectivity Cornucopia accelerate us toward high-quality Internet access for all.
People: Colorado Local Voters
We appreciate the voters in Colorado who chose to reclaim local authority. This year, 26 more counties and municipalities asked voters to opt out of restrictive SB 152, and all chose to take back telecommunications authority. They joined the ranks of a groundswell of local Colorado citizens who have voiced their opinion to Denver - 95 communities in all. They know that they are the best situated to make decisions about local connectivity and, even if they don’t have solid plans in place, want the ability to investigate the options. Colorado voters rock!
Place: Ammon, Idaho
In early November, voters in 26 additional Colorado communities chose to opt out of SB 152. The state’s restrictive law took away local telecommunications authority in 2005. The results in many of the towns and counties were overwhelming majorities - loud and clear in favor of local authority. Now, 95 local communities across the state have reclaimed local authority.
We covered the election results in detail on MuniNetworks.org and what those results say about local communities’ desire for better connectivity. We spoke with local community leaders. As part of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Building Local Power podcast, episode #5, Christopher and I also discussed what those results say about the desire to make connectivity choices at the local level.
In addition to Colorado, we also talked about local publicly owned networks in other parts of the nation and how they are changing the expectations for Internet users in urban and rural America.
We also discussed the general election results that brought Donald Trump to the presidency, specifically noting the impact that his ascension brings to local communities’ ability to provide Internet connectivity to their residents. We pondered the implications of a Trump presidency on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s mission of working across partisan lines in local communities.
We invite you to check out episode 5 of the Building Local Power podcast and check out other episodes, all highlighting the work we do at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
Colorado voters overwhelmingly reclaimed local authority in 26 counties and municipalities on Tuesday, November 8th. The total number of Colorado communities that have now reclaimed local authority is 95.
Citizens chose to opt out of state law SB 152, which prevented local governments from offering telecommunication services or advanced services to the general public. The law also bars them from partnering with the private sector and since 2008, a growing number of communities have put the question on the ballot.
We reached out to Sallie Clarke, County Commissioner in El Paso County and Brian Waldes, Director of Finance and Information Technology in Breckenridge for comment on their communities’ ballot measures; both passed with hearty margins. We also touched base with Virgil Turner who is the Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement in Montrose, which passed a similar initiative in 2014.
We’ve put together their comments and some information about SB 152 in audio form. The story runs for 4:37.
Read more about the recent election results and how all 26 communities chose to opt out, as well as see a map and details on the results.
We didn't need a crystal ball, magic potion, or ESP to predict that local Colorado voters would enthusiastically reclaim telecommunications authority yesterday. Twenty-six more local governments put the issue on the ballot and citizens fervently replied, “YES! YES, WE DO!”
Colorado local communities that want to take action to improve their local connectivity are hogtied by SB 152, the state law passed in 2005. Unless they hold a referendum and ask voters if they wish to reclaim the right to do so, the law prevents local governments from providing service or partnering with the private sector. Since the big incumbents that pushed the law through aren't providing necessary connectivity, their only choice is to opt out and work with new partners or move forward on their own.
This year’s results include seven counties and 19 municipalities. Many of those communities simply don't want lobbyists in Denver dictating whether they can move ahead in the digital economy. Over the past few years, the momentum has grown and, as places like Longmont, Rio Blanco County, and Centennial prove that local authority can improve local connectivity, more local governments have put the issue on the ballot.
The Big “Yes” In 95
On November 4th, Aspen public radio news featured a story about local ballot initiatives to opt out of state law SB 152 in Aspen, Carbondale, and Garfield County. The western communities are three of 26 that have the measure on their ballots this election. El Paso County, Montezuma County, and the small town of Dolores are only a few others.
Reporter Wyatt Orme spoke with Jim English, head of IT at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) who described how, because of lack of redundancy, a single fiber-optic cut a year ago left the community isolated. "It took down all services between South Glenwood to Aspen, including 911 in Aspen. [It] got people’s attention," he said.
When English had the opportunity to ask the incumbent why they had never deployed another line for safety's sake, he was dismayed by the answer: “Well, how do we justify that to our stockholders?”
CMC presented the opt out issue to voters last year, who handily supported the measure, giving the college the freedom to explore working with partners or on their own. SB 152, passed in 2005, was heavily lobbied by national incumbents and designed to prevent competition. It prevented CMC and any local government that had not opted out from tackling the problem of poor connectivity on their own with Internet infrastructure investment or seeking a private sector partner to solve the problem. To English - and to many of the local governments that have voted to opt out of the restrictive state law - choosing to opt out is a matter of local control and freedom:
[H]e thinks there’s historical precedent for local governments getting involved. "They built the interstate to move services and to move goods. And that’s sort of what the Internet really is. It’s...basically the new interstate," English said.
Listen to the entire story at Aspen Public Radio.
This has been a “loud” general election. The candidates, the campaign ads, and the supporters have all blasted their messages to voters in every state, drowning out some initiatives that are equally important. In Colorado, 26 local governments are asking voters to decide whether or not to opt out of SB 152, the state’s restrictive law passed in 2005 that looted local telecommunications authority.
In addition to seven counties, 19 municipalities have the issue on the ballot. Most of them use similar language from years past, when dozens of Colorado local governments presented the same question to voters.
El Paso County
There are about 664,000 people in the county, with approximately 456,000 living in the county seat of Colorado Springs. Rural residents and businesses typically struggle to obtain Internet access. County Question 1A reads:
Without increasing taxes, shall El Paso County have the authority to provide, or to facilitate or partner or coordinate with service providers for the provision of, “advanced (high-speed internet) service,” “cable television service,” and “telecommunications service,” either directly, indirectly, or by contract, to residential, commercial, nonprofit, government or other subscribers, and to acquire, operate and maintain any facility for the purpose of providing such services, restoring local authority and flexibility that was taken away by Title 29, Article 27, Part 1 of the Colorado Revised Statutes?
Recently, El Paso County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Sallie Clarke published a guest column in the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Gazette urging voters to support the measure. She noted that, even thought the initiative is important to the community, the local press has been quiet about the measure. With media filled by the Clinton/Trump race, there is little room for anything else, but she spells out why El Paso County needs to opt out of SB 152.
Rio Blanco County, Colorado, is moving along nicely with its Fiber-to-the-Curb infrastructure investment. Readers will recall that two years ago, voters in the mostly rural county in the northwest corner of the state reclaimed local authority and soon after the community commenced plans to improve connectivity.
In a recent interview of KDNK’s Geekspeak, Rio Blanco County’s IT Director Blake Mobley described details of the project as it moves forward. He also describes how people in the county are hungry for better Internet access. The guys touch on local control and how several other communities in Colorado are voting on the right to make their own telecommunications decisions this election season. From the show website:
On this year’s ballot, voters in Carbondale, Silt, Parachute and Garfield County will decide whether or not to opt out of restrictions on local government control over high speed Internet. Blake Mobley is IT Director for Rio Blanco County. Blake talks with Matt McBrayer and Gavin Dahl about Rio Blanco’s own ballot initiative, and the county’s decision to invest in infrastructure that is now delivering gigabit fiber to homes and businesses in Rangely and Meeker.
Christopher also interviewed Blake back in 2015 for episode #158 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
As Election Day approaches, people in a number of Colorado communities will be addressing special ballot questions on local telecommunications authority. Editors of the local news source, the Journal, encourage voters in Montezuma County and Dolores to opt out of harmful SB 152 and reclaim authority taken away in 2005.
“That Industry Has Had Its Chance”
According to editors at the Journal, SB 152 may have sounded like a good thing to legislators in 2005, but big corporate providers have not lived up to promises to bring high-quality connectivity to rural Colorado:
More than a decade later, that industry has had its chance. Internet providers have cherry-picked the lucrative markets and left small communities and even more sparsely populated rural areas with substandard Internet services that are far from high speed. Now it is time for the public sector to step out from under SB 152 restrictions.
By our last count, 27 towns and counties will offer voters the choice to opt out, but we may discover more as we continue to research before Election Day. The communities who choose to vote on the measure don’t necessarily have solid plans to invest in Internet access infrastructure, but if they want to work with a private sector partner or on their own, they must first hold a referendum.
As Election Day approaches, we anticipate more editorials expressing support; local communities are tired of waiting for better connectivity. As stated by the editors here:
Ballot issues 1A and 2A, respectively, allow local governments to investigate the feasibility of providing broadband services as a public utility or as part of a public-private partnership with taxpayer support for infrastructure.
That is logical, because most of us think of the Internet exactly as an essential utility, right along with electricity, gas and water.
The need is obvious. County voters, vote “yes.” Dolores voters, check the “yes” boxes on both 1A and 2A.
Loveland, Colorado, was one of nearly 50 communities that voted to opt out of SB 152 last fall. Ten months later, they are working with a consultant to conduct a feasibility study to assess current infrastructure and determine how best to improve connectivity for businesses and residents.
Examining Assets, Analyzing Options
According to the Request for Proposals (RFP) released in April, the city has some of its own fiber that’s used for traffic control. Loveland also uses the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) fiber network but wants to enhance service all over the community, focusing on economic development, education, public safety, healthcare, and “overall quality of life.” Community leaders also want recommendations on which policies would encourage more and better service throughout Loveland.
The city has its own electric, water, sewer, wastewater, and solid waste utilities, so is no stranger on operating essential utilities. Approximately 69,000 people live in the community located in the southeast corner of the state.
They want a network that will provide Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second or Mbps) connectivity on both download and upload (symmetrical) and 10 Gigabit (Gbps) symmetrical connections for businesses and other entities. The network needs to be scalable so it can grow with the community and its needs. Reliability, affordability, and inclusivity are other requirements in Loveland.
Loveland began the process this summer by asking residents and businesses to respond to an online survey. The city will consider all forms of business models from dark fiber to publicly owned retail to open access and public-private partnerships (P3). They should have results by early in 2017, according to the Broadband Initiative Calendar.