Voters in Vail, Louisville and 17 other Colorado cities and counties Tuesday voted to take internet service into their own hands in a move that could lead to providing citizens an alternative to the entrenched cable internet provider. Fort Collins voters, who voted to do so two years ago, passed a measure to finance exploration of a city-owned broadband utility.
According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has tracked broadband votes for years, the 19 cities and counties join about 100 others in the state that previously opted out of Senate Bill 152. That bill, passed in 2005, restricts local governments from using taxpayer dollars to build their own broadband networks.
“These cities and counties recognize that they cannot count on Comcast and CenturyLink alone to meet local needs, which is why you see overwhelming support even in an off-year election,” Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said in a statement.
In 2005, cable and internet providers campaigned to stop cities from offering internet service. At the time, Steve Davis, an executive at Qwest, which is now CenturyLink, told The Rocky Mountain News, “I think it’s inappropriate for public tax dollars to be invested in competitive businesses. At minimum, taxpayers should have the opportunity (to vote on the matter).”
The law passed, but it gave citizens the right to opt out in order to explore the possibility of building a municipal broadband network.
The city of Longmont became the first to do so in 2011, and about three years later, the city began offering internet service at speeds of a gigabit per second, which was much faster than the 20 mbps available from the local cable provider. In August, the city said nearly 90,000 residents can now get gigabit service, which starts at $49.95 a month for residents who sign up within three months of the service launching in their neighborhood.
About 53 percent of the population uses the city’s high-speed internet service, Longmont officials said.
Centennial, which opted out in 2013, is building its own internet backbone in the city and letting private companies such as Ting Internet offer broadband service.
In Fort Collins, which opted out of SB 152 in 2015, voters Tuesday approved the 2B measure to take the next step. The measure allows the city to issue $150 million in securities and debt to pursue the best way to offer broadband to its residents.
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