Longmont, CO chalks up referendum win over Comcast for muni fiber

The 80,000 or so residents of the town of Longmont, Colo. will have the chance to decide how a 17-mile fiber loop will be utilized to provide high-speed broadband service, after winning a referendum vote Tuesday to lift state restrictions on use of the fiber-optic network.

The Longmont Times Call reported that Ballot Question 2A passed with more than 60 percent of the vote, enabling the town to offer broadband service to residents and businesses either directly or via a partnership.

While on the surface the Longmont referendum looks like a simple move toward providing municipal broadband across already-existing fiber plant, the approval took more than two years and the amount of money involved in the campaigns around the referendum was inordinate. The organization "Look Before We Leap," an effort sponsored by the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association (which itself is funded by member MSOs including Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), Optimum, US Cable and Rocky Mountain Communications), spent nearly $300,000 trying to convince Longmont's residents to defeat the ballot question. This amount is on top of the $245,000 that Look Before We Leap spent in 2009, when its efforts contributed to the defeat of the referendum by 56 percent.

While Look Before We Leap spokesman George Merritt, in the Times Call story, cited the "disappointing track record of municipal telecoms" as a reason to be cautious in embracing the trend, supporters of the referendum felt the benefits outweighed the dangers.

"(T)he project will bring jobs in the short-term without a doubt--people building the 'last mile' to the door, skilled and semi-skilled labor that the town sorely needs," wrote Jon Rice on his pro-2A site, Longmont's Future. "It will also attract the attention of magnet employers such as Google, who wanted to build in Longmont but were put off by the fact that we had to vote on whether we could even use the fiber-optic ring that belonged to us."

Colorado, like several other U.S. states, requires approval by voter referendum to reestablish a city's right to provide "advanced services" including telecommunications and cable to its residents and businesses. It a requirement that Craig Settles, a municipal broadband advocate, calls "ridiculous."

"The whole referendum requirement in (these) states are more of a bastardization of the democratic process than what people think," he told FierceTelecom, adding that the referendum vote is a time-consuming process, and that Longmont residents faced a tremendous amount of "firepower" from the opposition in the form of advertising, pamphlets, mailers, petitions and other strategies to sway the vote.

"It's a very good victory for the community of Longmont, for other communities in Colorado, and in other states where communities face these ridiculous restraints...on their ability to run their own networks."

For more:
- the Longmont Times Call has this article
- see Craig Settles' blog post

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