Colorado cities vote for muni broadband, in concept

10 November 2014 by Steve Blum
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If you had to choose a single issue, broadband would have been better.

Besides confounding conventional political wisdom by turfing out an incumbent democrat in favor of a hard-to-pin-down republican, Colorado voters said yes to repatriating municipal broadband decisions in a big way.

Colorado state law requires voters to approve municipal broadband systems – a simple vote by the city council isn’t enough. According to the Washington Post, voters in 7 cities and counties voted to approve it…

In Boulder, locals voted on whether the city should be “authorized to provide high-speed Internet services (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, nonprofit entities and other users of such services.” As of late Tuesday night, the city of 100,000 people, which already owns miles of unused fiber, had approved the measure with 84 percent of the vote.

Similar overrides also passed by large margins in the towns of Yuma, Wray, Cherry Hills Village and Red Cliff and in Rio Blanco and Yuma counties, according to KUNC, a public radio station in northern Colorado.

The Post reported that Comcast didn’t roll out its scorched earth political machine, speculating that the Time-Warner merger/Charter market swap was consuming its attention.

The story also spins Colorado’s muni broadband law as a prohibition, of the sort that FCC chair Tom Wheeler says he’s against. I’d be the last person to speculate on what thoughts are actually crawling through Wheeler’s brain, but I think the Post has it wrong. Requiring local voter approval as a first step in building a muni broadband system should be a boost, not a barrier.

If 80 percent or more of local voters say they want something, the political debate – which will tie up muni broadband for years – is over. City elected officials have their marching orders. It’s a matter of putting the best possible plan together. Since any substantial broadband build will require borrowing capital, the final step is asking voters to say yes or no to the specifics. Or at least something a bit more specific – Colorado cities aren’t famous for full disclosure on bond issue votes.

Get it on the ballot and either move ahead or move on. That looks more like a fast track than a failure for viable muni broadband projects.