Colorado communities band together to eliminate municipal broadband restrictions

A group of 26 Colorado communities, including 17 counties, will vote on an initiative to overturn a 10-year old law that restricts local municipalities from building their own broadband networks.

According to The Denver Post, this is the largest group of local communities to challenge the 2005 law that was passed to ensure that the state's cable and traditional telcos would not have to compete with government-funded service provider networks.

Similar to other efforts in Tennessee, communities have a number of reasons to see these laws overturned. Some communities want to offer Wi-Fi in public buildings and parks, while others want to work with private partners to build a middle-mile fiber backbone that could be used by a mix of businesses, local government and service providers.

But for a number of other rural and smaller cities in the state, the goal is even simpler: they want a better broadband service that their incumbent telco or cable provider won't give them today.

"It's not that we want to compete with the private sector -- it's that the private sector isn't providing the level of service the community needs," said Ken Fellman, general counsel with the Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance, according to The Denver Post.

However, others like Pete Kirchhof, executive vice president of the Colorado Telecommunications Association, said there are a number of risks communities face in developing their own broadband network. His organization represents a number of rural independent phone companies in Colorado.

"If government is going to be getting into this risky business, taxpayers ought to know about it and approve it," said Kirchhof.

He cited the issues EAGLE-Net, a public organization that was awarded $100.6 million in broadband stimulus funds in 2010, faced in trying to build a middle mile network to extend broadband into more areas of the state. EAGLE-Net faced criticism from various circles for overbuilding its fiber network in areas that already had an abundance of available facilities.

Despite the risks associated with municipal broadband deployments, momentum around the concept in Colorado has remained strong.

In 2014, seven of the state's cities got permission to build municipal broadband networks. Under the 2005 law, municipalities can provide high-speed broadband Internet if "an election shall be called" and a majority of voters support the idea. 

Some of those towns included Boulder, which owns miles of unused fiber, as well as Yuma, Wray, Cherry Hills Village and Red Cliff.

For more:
- The Denver Post has this article

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