Colorado hands broadband subsidy decisions to telephone, cable companies

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Colorado has its own version of a state broadband infrastructure subsidy program. Governor John Hickenlooper signed three bills into law on Monday that, together, set up a grant program, funded by $100 million from taxes assessed for universal telephone service, that will pay for broadband projects in unserved areas (h/t to Fred Pilot at the Eldo Telecom blog for the pointer) . Those are defined as places where Internet service at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds is not available.

In many regards the program is similar to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), particularly in its deference to incumbent telcos and cable companies, and the low rural standards they embrace. One notable difference is that last year California lawmakers set an even lower minimum speed – 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up – as the good enough standard for rural Californians.

As in California, the Colorado program gives incumbent providers a right of first refusal over any proposed project, although at least it’s honest about calling it what it is. When independent Internet service providers submit applications, they’re required to provide the information directly to incumbents, who then have the opportunity to underbid the applicant. Additionally, areas where telcos, or other providers, are getting federal subsidies, including particularly money from the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund, are off limits. Again, as in California.

Unlike CASF, though, municipal broadband projects are not excluded from Colorado’s program, although only unincorporated areas and cities of no more than 7,500 residents are eligible for any kind of project. But Colorado isn’t giving muni projects a green light either: the program will be run by a “broadband deployment board” which has 15 voting members. Seven seats are reserved for “members representing the broadband industry”, including specifically telephone and cable company representatives, and three more go to state apparatchiks. Only three are designated for local agency representatives and two for members of the public.

The odds of the board doing anything that doesn’t suit telco and cable interests are very, very low.

Colorado senate bill 18–002, Concerning the Financing of Broadband Deployment, 29 March 2018.
Colorado house bill 18–1099, incumbent’s right of first refusal, 2 April 2018.
Colorado senate bill 18–104, permission to apply for FCC waiver asking that broadband subsidies be given to the State of Colorado, 29 March 2018.