Communications Daily, July 13, 2015
Colorado’s cities and towns are responding in a variety of ways to the state’s 2005 law restricting a municipality’s right to build out its own broadband network. While that law in some form isn’t unique to Colorado, the difference is that it allows local governments to opt out with a ballot measure in an election. Because that option exists, some municipalities are exercising it, with Longmont leading the charge years ago and fighting the large telcos in two elections before winning and officially beginning the process of building out its own network. In the last election, Boulder’s residents voted to opt out of the law and now the city has hired a firm to do a study before moving forward. Bayfield is expected to have a measure asking residents to vote on opting out on the ballot in the November election.
Chris Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance director-community broadbandnetworks initiative, said cities are likely choosing to opt out of the law instead of going to the FCC to have the law overridden because it’s easier and cheaper for a city to opt out than go through the entire FCC process, which involves lawyers and possible appeals. And unlike when Longmont went through the process, Comcast said in a recent meeting it won’t oppose those municipalities looking to opt out, he said. Instead, consistent with the rest of the country, the big telcos seem to have been making larger investments in networks in those cities that choose to opt out, Mitchell said. “Anecdotally, we’ve seen that it seems that just opting out may result in more private sector investment,” he said.
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) is working to help communities through the process to make sure municipalities that want to be the service provider for broadband are able to do so, said Nate Walowitz, NWCCOG coordinator-regional broadband. NWCCOG is a voluntary association of county and municipal governments that believe working together on a regional basis provides benefits that could not be obtained alone. The group’s goal is to ease legal hurdles and ensure that the participating municipalities can enter into public/private partnerships, even if they’re with the larger telcos, Walowitz said. The municipalities in NWCCOG aren’t necessarily looking to compete with companies such as Comcast or CenturyLink, but they are looking to find new ways to work with them, he said. “There could be very interesting partnerships created to help deliver these services,” Walowitz said. “Some of our best partners are the incumbents, because there are some things that they do very, very well. Their network infrastructure is there. … [Municipalities] looking to deliver services to folks and partner and create partnerships so that it can be cost effective for them and other service providers to come in and deliver broadband services.”