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Let It Be Local: 43 Colorado Communities to Vote on Better Broadband

One year ago, a wave started in Colorado as voters in a handful of communities chose to reclaim the local telecommunications authority revoked by CenturyLink lobbyists in 2005. This year, the wave is even bigger.

Colorado Communities Want the Choice

As 2015 election day approaches, voters in 43 Colorado communities are on track to keep the momentum going across the state. A total of 17 counties, 26 towns, and at least 3 school districts are taking the issue to voters, reports the Colorado Municipal League. Referendums to opt out of restrictive SB 152 will take place across the state, much to the chagrin of big ISPs who spent millions in lobbying dollars to get the bill passed.

In 2014, nine communities overwhelmingly chose to reclaim local authority. Some of those communities, including Boulder and Rio Blanco County, are taking steps forward. The intention of the referendums were primarily to take back a local right hijacked by the state legislature in 2005 and some communities may never take any action. A number of Colorado news outlets, including local KUNC, the Durango Herald, and the Denver Post support the tide of local self-reliance and expect it to swell.

Local Support: “Yes” in Steamboat Springs

Letters include one from resident Jon Quinn and another from Jim Clark, the CEO of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. Clark says voting to opt out of SB 152 means recognizing that it has not served its originally stated purpose to help communities:

Ten years ago, Senate Bill 152 was passed, taking away the rights of governments to engage in providing service, including their ability to partner with private entities. The argument at the time was that this would encourage private providers to invest in expanding service, in particular, to rural areas. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out so well. Service interruptions have occurred with detrimental consequences to business and residents.

These two letters are in addition to a recent editorial from the newspaper also advocating that voters vote "yes." Residents in Routt County will see at least three ballot questions asking separately to allow the county, cities, and some public schools to opt out of SB 152.

Local Support: More “Yeses” in Fort Collins

Fort Collins residents Robin Gard, Walt Lyons, and Edgar Peyronnin also wrote letters in support of a “yes” vote on the referendum to reject SB 152. Lyons, a small business owner in Fort Collins who we featured in a recent story, describes the potential repercussions of a “no” vote for the city:

A no-vote means nothing happens — and the status quo will be hugely detrimental to our future economic development. Outdoor Magazine now ranks Chattanooga (not Fort Collins) as “the Best Town Ever.” One reason? An affordable city-sponsored, gigabit fiber network triggered a venture capital boom of high-tech startups.

Schools Want to Use Their Tools

With an increased emphasis on technology in the classroom, schools and colleges now realize that prior connectivity levels are no longer adequate. In other situations, schools have existing infrastructure but SB 152 blocks them from making full use of its potential.

Colorado Mountain College will ask voters in six counties to approve the opt out even though the school has no plans to take any action at this time. The college wants "to have certainty" that they can provide their own Internet in the future, if the need arises reports the Grand Junction Sentinel.


Last year, Boulder voters opted out of SB 152 and this year the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) is asking for a repeat, reports the Boulder Weekly. The district launched its "1:Web" pilot project in 2014 but has found that its 55 schools also need better connectivity. BVSD also has over 100 miles of fiber planted and would like to earn revenue by leasing excess capacity to ISPs as a way to expand affordable Internet access and shrink the digital divide.

Leasing excess fiber to partners could increase competition in the area. The prospect is great for consumers but would defeat the true purpose of SB 152, reports the Denver Post:

"Pure and simple, it was a statute written to limit competition," said Ken Fellman, a Denver attorney who specializes in telecom issues and has been fighting against SB 152 for years. "They didn't want government to compete directly or indirectly. There are millions of dollars in private capital that haven't come to Colorado because of this statutue."

Taking Back Local Control

As it stands, SB 152 presumes that people in a community don’t know what is best for themselves. A “yes” vote on a referendum is not a commitment to build a municipal broadband network; it is merely reclaiming the right to make their own local decisions. If passed, communities are free to consider all possible options including building publicly-owned and operated broadband networks or pursuing public/private partnerships to solve local connectivity problems.

Taxpayers Footing Bill for Referenda

From a financial perspective, these 43 communities must spend thousands of dollars to reclaim the authority that was once rightfully theirs. For example, in Fort Collins the ballot question will cost the taxpayers more than $60,000. The cost of almost four dozen of these referendums could easily push past a million dollars

Time To Strike The "Obnoxious Law"

Colorado state leaders need to recognize that it is time to get rid of SB 152, relieve local communities from the onerous burden of opting out, and restore local authority across the state. Geoff Wilson, General Counsel for the Colorado Municipal League, told the Durango Herald:

It’s an obnoxious law that was passed by the industry to protect their monopoly...The law is designed to protect the provider of inferior service from the local government doing anything about it.

New Municipal Broadband Feasibility Study Underway in Firestone, CO

The Board of Trustees for the city of Firestone, CO is evaluating the feasibility of a new municipal broadband service for this growing town of about 10,000 people that sits just 30 miles north of Denver. This according to a recent report in the Times-Call newspaper in Longmont, Colorado.  The feasibility study will compare Firestone’s existing telecommunications infrastructure with those in nearby communities such as Longmont and Boulder that already have municipal networks. It will also assess the potential for growth of the service in Firestone to a nearby 3,500-home community development project.

It would be travesty to build a 3,500 home development without having a plan for high quality Internet access. Even if CenturyLink or Comcast were to deploy fiber optics there, the community should ensure there are plans for conduit or an open network to allow multiple service providers to provide a real choice.

A 2005 Colorado state law barring municipalities from providing internet service to their citizens has been an obstacle for Longmont and Boulder in their pursuit of their own city-run broadband services.  Telecommunications companies in the Longmont area spent $200,000 on a campaign that helped defeat the referendum in 2009 and $400,000 more in 2011.  But citizens in Longmont successfully voted in the 2011 referendum to exempt their town from the law and build their own community broadband network. As we wrote in May, Longmont’s NextLight fiber-based municipal broadband service, which started just 2 years ago, is now among the fastest internet services in the United States.

In Boulder, 84% of citizens voted in a 2014 referendum to restore the local government’s rights to restore local telecommunications authority. The city now provides free municipal Wi-Fi throughout the downtown civic area and additional fiber-optic infrastructure servicing city facilities with plans for further expansion.

As the Longmont Times-Call wrote in December, Longmont’s struggles and eventual success in starting their own fiber-based municipal network helped to pave the way for Boulder.  The success of those efforts also provide favorable local precedents for Firestone officials and other local advocates to demonstrate how well fiber-based municipal networks can benefit a community. According to Firestone spokeswoman Kristi Ridder, the possibility of Firestone eventually getting its own municipal broadband service is still a ways off, with no ballot question planned yet on Colorado State Bill 152.  But she acknowledged that inquiries from residents have prompted town boards to discuss the possibility of a community broadband service over the past several years.

Boulder Releases RFP For Broadband Feasibility Study

In June, Boulder released a Request for Proposals (RFP) as it seeks a consultant to conduct a broadband feasibility study. A PDF of the RFP is available online.

The city currently has 179 miles of fiber in place serving 60 city facilities; there is an additional 36 miles of empty conduit. This network interfaces with the Boulder Valley School District's network within the city and in other areas of Boulder County. It also connects to Longmont's network and to a colocation facility in Denver. 

The city is also home to BRAN -  the Boulder Research and Administration Network. The city, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Department of Commerce Laboratories share ownership of the BRAN fiber network which interconnects their facilities.

Last fall, Boulder joined a number of other Colorado communities whose voters chose to reclaim local telecommunications authority, revoked in 2005 under Colorado State Bill 152.

The city established a Broadband Working Group earlier this year to investigate ways to bring better connectivity to Boulder. They created a draft vision, included in the RFP:

Draft Vision: Gigabit Broadband to Boulder Homes and Businesses

(May 21, 2015)

Our vision is to provide a world-class community telecommunications infrastructure to Boulder for the 21st century and beyond, facilitated by new access to the public’s local telecommunications assets. We acknowledge that broadband is a critical service for quality of life, as is the case with roads, water, sewer, and electricity. Every home, business, non-profit organization, government entity, and place of education should have the opportunity to connect affordably, easily, and securely. Boulder’s broadband services will be shaped by the values of the community.

We intend to empower our citizens and local businesses to be network economy producers, not just consumers of network information and data services. We realize that doing so requires access to gigabit-class broadband infrastructure to support these needed services and capabilities:

1. Broadband Infrastructure: Provide the infrastructure to enable every Boulder home, business, visitor, and public or private institution the opportunity to access affordable high speed broadband connections to the Internet, and other networks.

2. Open Access: Demonstrate, support, and build a non-discriminatory, open-access infrastructure that should, to the maximum extent possible, be open to all users, service providers, content providers, and application providers and be usable via all standard commercial devices.

3. Competitive Marketplace: Facilitate a local broadband marketplace that is as competitive as reasonably possible. 

4. Compete Globally: Provide stakeholders with the broadband capacity, affordability and local, regional and national connectivity they need to compete successfully in the global marketplace. 

We envision significant progress toward an operational network in 1-2 years with commitments from providers, community stakeholders, regional partners, and a common, shared vision to make gigabit-class bandwidth available to all residents, businesses and workers in Boulder.

As mentioned in the RFP, Boulder is currently in the process of municipalizing its electric utility services. The city mentions that the firm selected for the electric utility project is available to provide information about infrastructure or related issues for a more accurate study.

Last summer, Chris spoke with Don Ingle, Director of Information Technology from Boulder, for episode #108 of the Commnity Broadband Bits podcast. Don shared information about the city's policies that helped develop their existing fiber and conduit assets. Chris and Don also discussed ways Boulder has benefitted from its existing network.

The city is already offering free Wi-Fi in the downtown Civic Area. They have produced a video on the service:

City launches free public WiFi in Civic Area from City of Boulder on Vimeo.

Boulder Uses New Found Authority to Offer Free Wi-Fi

Just two months after voters passed ballot measure 2C, the City of Boulder is solidifying plans to offer free Wi-Fi throughout the downtown Civic Area, reports the Boulder Daily Camera.

Boulder was one of several Colorado communities that reclaimed local authority last fall. They had no specific project planned but knew they needed to create an environment rich in opportunity. Colorado's state law is so restrictive, there was little Boulder could do with the fiber resources they already have in place:

"Before, we were technically breaking the law by having wi-fi at the library," [Boulder IT Director Don Ingle] said.

Ingle told the City Council at it's January 26th meeting that the project was estimated to be less than $100,000 and that they hope to have it completed by March, weather permitting.

You can listen to Chris interview Don Ingle about the situation in Boulder in Episode 108 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 1

The mayors of 38 US cities came out this week to let the FCC know they want the authority to build high speed Internet networks. Jon Gold with Network World covered the story and reminded readers of the more heavy-handed tactics of our Comcast and TWC. 

Three U.S. senators introduced a Community Broadband Act this week. Mario Trujillo with The Hill reported that the bill would forbid state and local governments from “creating a ‘statute, regulation, or other legal requirement’ that bars communities from creating their own municipal broadband network.”

Kate Cox with the Consumerist broke it down:

“In other words, the Community Broadband Act makes it legal for a town to start a network and illegal for the state to stop them, but doesn’t provide any assistance for towns who want to build networks. It simply gives them the opportunity to pursue their own funding. To that end, the bill specifically encourages public-private partnerships.”

Henry Grabar with Salon wrote about the ideological debate that is “taking the country by storm.” 

Broadband Definition

Jon Brodkin with Ars Technica wrote about the FCC decision to raise the definition of broadband speed: “Tons of AT&T and Verizon customers will no longer have ‘broadband’ tomorrow.” This after the FCC upped the definition of broadband from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps download speed. 

Under the proposed definition of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up (which is opposed by Internet providers), 19.4 percent of US households would be in areas without any wired broadband providers. 55.3 percent would have just one provider of “broadband,” with the rest being able to choose from two or more. Rural areas are far less likely to have fast Internet service than urban ones.

In another article about the decision, Brodkin explains why the cable industry is opposed to the changes.

Alina Selykukh with Reuters covered the increase as well.  The new definition should force upgrades to fiber to the home, but it could also have a real impact for lower-income families. 

“The FCC could also press Comcast to commit to faster speeds in its Internet Essentials program, a discounted Internet service for low-income families, if they decide to use it as part of the merger review, analysts said.”


Muni Editorials

This week several prominent newspaper editorial boards have come out in favor of community broadband. 

The Boston Globe’s board wrote that Congress should let cities provide their own Internet

“A better approach would be for Congress to settle the issue itself, by preventing states from interfering with cities and towns that want to start their own Internet services. On Jan. 22, Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Ed Markey of Massachusetts filed a bill that would invalidate the state laws, and prohibit states from enacting new ones. This effort will almost certainly face stiff resistance from Congressional Republicans. But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and it isn’t one on the local level. Red states like Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah all have successful municipal Internet programs. Politicians tempted by campaign contributions from the telecommunications lobby, or skeptical of any proposal backed by President Obama, should remember that consumer protection is an issue that voters of all stripes support.”

The LA Times also weighed in: 

"Just as advances in microchip speed and hard drive capacity have led to more powerful software programs, faster broadband networks lead to more data-intensive applications and services. But the shortage of broadband competitors and the high cost of building networks in the United States have slowed the spread of the kind of ultra-high-speed services such as the ones found in much of Asia and northern Europe… Regardless, the decision about whether a local agency should get into the broadband business should be left to the people who bear the risk — local officials and the people who elect them." 

The Iowa State Daily praised Republican Governor Branstad’s “Connect Every Acre” proposal: 

“Bringing Internet access to all Iowans or Americans will only increase the number of educational and economic opportunities in our state. Cedar Falls is already a powerhouse in Iowan and national E-commerce, so expanding similar capabilities across the state will strengthen Iowa’s standing on the national economic stage."

More residents and op-ed writers have chosen to write about community broadband as well. Andrew Kocis wrote in the Eastern Echo that he wants to see faster speeds, more competition and better service.

Ansel Herz continues to bite at the heels of Seattle’s decision-makers.

“Seattle is a bustling, high-tech metropolis with a highly regarded public utility company. We're the fastest growing large city in the country, according to census data, and the city expects that over the next 10 years, 75 percent of the city's new residents will move here for jobs in the tech sector. So why, when it comes to the internet, are we so far behind cities like Cedar Falls and Chattanooga—or closer to home, for that matter, towns like Mount Vernon or Sandy, Oregon?”

David Amor wrote to keep his paper, the Galesburg Register-Mail, in check after a recent article only told half of the story about broadband in his Illinois community. 

The South Coast Today out of Massachusetts is introducing a series devoted to helping residents learn more about municipal networks:

The first question is "Why would Middleboro want to become an ISP (Internet Service Provider?".  The simple answer is:  To provide quality high speed Internet at the lowest possible price and to protect our citizens from the blood thirsty piranhas that they currently have to contend with.  A municipal ISP would have the effect of keeping the other providers honest.  Competition would force everybody to offer the best possible rates instead of what we have today - Internet superhighway men and corporate grifters who are charging as much as they can get away with after luring you in with temporarily low rates.


Community Broadband City Update

Paul Bunyan Communications in Bemidji, MN connected its first “gigazone” customer this week. Zach Kayser with the Forum News Service reported on the technological revolution that is happening in rural northern Minnesota. Once completed, the GigaZone will be one of the largest gigabit networks in the United States.

Bryan Lund with the Rochester Post Bulletin is reporting about his city taking steps toward community broadband. Rochester, MN city council member Mike Wojcik says he’s been bombarded with letters from residents disgusted with their Charter service, and that’s sparking them to look into other options. 

"Broadband is key for information for a lot of people, particularly younger generations, and going forward, it becomes more and more critical… Ultimately, if the city of Rochester, if the citizens of Rochester, are not willing to invest in broadband themselves, nobody else is going to invest in it for us. There are more than 30 cities around the country now that have jumped in and are positively cash-flowing broadband for their citizens. Typically, they have better service, better speeds and better pricing than Rochester gets."

Barbara Rodriguez with the Associated Press reported on Gov. Branstad’s broadband legislation. In the Quad City Times, Barb Ickes wrote that the Iowa city’s leaders have a responsibility to understand how broadband service can benefit their constituents. 

Allison Oligschlaeger with the Deseret News reports that the mayor of Murray, Utah has a plan to increase UTOPIA customers.

In Albany, New York, Chelsea Diana with Biz Journals wrote about how Albany businesses have fallen behind for competitive speeds. She found that 70 percent of upstate New Yorkers cannot get access to broadband at 100 Mbps, which many European cities enjoy. 

Richie Davis with GazetteNet in Massachusetts wrote about Leverett’s community broadband success, which was featured in the White House’s broadband report.

“President Obama’s call Tuesday for Internet expansion to “help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world,” had a special ring for people in this town.

Obama’s State of the Union shout-out to the 21st-century businesses’ need for “the fastest Internet,” and his visit to Cedar Falls, Iowa, last week to spotlight that city’s municipal gigabit-per-second broadband service, came as little surprise to Leverett Broadband Committee members, who are gearing up for 1-gigabit-per-second LeverettNet service — 100 times faster than the national average — to be turned on this spring for residents.”

Boulder, CO residents will soon be reaping the benefits from their recent Internet ballot initiative. Erica Meltzer with the Daily Camera writes that the city will launch free public wi-fi in downtown areas this Spring. 

And in Loveland, CO, Saja Hindi with the Reporter Herald reports on elected officials there are discussing how municipal broadband could improve the town’s economy. 

“[City councilor John] Fogle said it's not just large cities taking advantage of this idea but smaller ones as well because it's about being a catalyst for business and for education... A business developer at the retreat affirmed Fogle's comment, stating there's a possibility of a company looking to locate the manufacture of helicopters in Loveland at the airport next year and because the headquarters are in Switzerland, having a fiber optic line would be very beneficial.”

Local Voices Show Support for Local Connectivity Options

Our readers have heard the media murmur around municipal networks steadily grow to a loud hum during the past year. An increasing number of local press outlets have taken the opportunity to express their support for municipal networks in recent months.

In communities across the U.S. letters to the editor or editorial board opinions reflected the hightened awareness that local decisionmaking is the best answer. Support is not defined by political inclination, geography, or urbanization.

Last fall, several Colorado communities asked voters to decide whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority hijacked by the state legislature and Qwest (now CenturyLink) lobbyists in 2005. Opinion pieces from local political and business leaders in the Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera encouraged voters to support the measures. Downtown Boulder Inc. and the Boulder Chamber wrote:

Clearly a transparent public process is appropriate for identifying the best path to higher-speed infrastructure. One thing is certain. Approving the exemption to State Law 152 is a step in the right direction.

Expensive service, poor quality connections, and limited access often inspire local voices to find their way to the news. Recently, City Council Member Michael Wojcik from Rochester, Minnesota, advocated for a municipal network for local businesses and residents. His letter appeared in the

If we want to control our broadband future, we need to join successful communities such as Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La., and create a municipal fiber network. In many cities around the world, residents get 1 gigabyte, bidirectional Internet speeds for less than $40 per month. In Rochester, I get 1 percent of those speeds for $55 per month. I believe if Bucharest, Romania, can figure this out, Rochester can as well.

Last summer, Austin Daily Herald reporter Laura Helle wrote in support of the Minnesota community's proposed Gig Austin project. She acknowledged that there were those in the community who considered their Internet access "fine" but "fine" would not sufficiently encourage growth and economic development.

In May, the Olympian Editorial Board suggested several communities in Washington open up municipal fiber networks for consumer use.

Some editorials or letters we see support specific projects. Connecticut community media outlets are also voicing support for a statewide initiative commenced last fall. Hartford Business published an opinion piece from State Senator Beth Bye and Consumer Counsel Ellin Katz on the need for better connectivity in the state. They then followed up with an editorial supporting the plan:

To be frank, investing in high-speed Internet infrastructure hasn't been an issue high on our priority list, but when you look at the statistics and the economic implications, it is something state policymakers and the business community should look at seriously.

A number of communities have expressed interest in joining the Connecticut effort and journalists and editors in communities like Wallingford have published pieces encouraging their local leaders to participate.

Bill Nemitz, writing for the Portland Press Herald, and Stephen Betts at the Bangor Daily News highlighted the promise of municipal networks in Maine. Nemitz believes Maine should consider a network similar to Massachusetts' WiredWest or take a closer look at Leverett. The Daily News touted Rockport's investment as a locally driven initiative:

As Rockport lights its fiber, many other towns across Maine contemplate the economic and quality of life benefits fiber promises. The network wouldn’t have moved forward without the support of businesses and institutions, as well as local taxpayers, who believed in the value of fiber. Private investment and revenue from the town’s Tax Increment Financing account funded the project.

Reading Newspaper NYC

The Daily News writes fondly of Rockport's local self-reliant approach: "...towns across the state would do well to take notice of Rockport's example."

In communities where projects have been considered, local media has felt compelled to express to their support. In Roanoke County, Virginia, a project has been debated for over a year. In July the Roanoke Times Editorial Board published "Our view: Strike up the broadband" in support of the project.

Recently, we reported on a collaborative project in McHenry County, Illinois involving the county, a nearby community college, a school district, and the city. In December, the Northwest Herald supported the project with an editorial, citing taxpayer savings and potential economic development.

Economic development is often cited as one of the most important reasons local citizens, leaders, and editorial boards support local initiatives. The Editorial Board of ended 2014 with strong support of a proposed plan to develop a fiber optic network to attract business:

We urge city leaders move ahead with all deliberate speed on our own "Gig City" project, and all the local governments and business support organizations in our region to work in partnership to create a new atmosphere of excitement for entrepreneurism.

Such jobs, created handful by handful in small companies with large potential, will boost our Rocket City to new levels of success.

We also came across an editorial encapsulating the process and the success of local connectivity in The Dalles, Oregon. The network paid off its debt ahead of schedule. The Dalles Chronicle covered the story, highlighting the benefits of the network but also providing a brief history of the tumultuous history behind the decision to invest in a network. Ultimately, the community's success was the realization of their vision which is now their fiber optic network asset, QLife. From the editorial:

Their vision has been validated over and over in the subsequent years.

QLife isn’t the only benefit that has come from a community-wide vision.

Every community needs visionaries to help shape its future and The Dalles one has reaped benefits from visionaries as it has materially transformed itself over the decades.

But every community also needs hard-headed pragmatists to question the need, analyze the plan and help make sure any vision stands up under public scrutiny.

Only through this crucible of diverging perspectives does truly sound public policy emerge.

QLife is a testiment to effectiveness of that crucible.

Beleve it or not, these are only a few of the letters to the editor and editorials we see on a regular basis in support of local telecommunications authority, specific municipal projects under consideration, or from a public that knows local connectivity needs a boost from the community.

If your community suffers from poor connecivity for residents, business, or public institutions, you should consider the possibilty of a community network initiative. Writing editorials and letters to the editor in local media is a good way to find like minded citizens and bring attention to the issue.

For more on starting a community network initiative in your community, check out our Community Network Toolkit or many of our other resources.

Photo of the newspaper stack courtesy of Globalimmigrantnews through Wikimedia Commons. Photo of the newspaper reader courtesy of c_pichler through Wikimedia Commons

Estes Park, Colorado, to Ask Voters to Reclaim Authority in February

The recent Colorado elections in Boulder, San Miguel County, Yuma County, Rio Blanco County, Wray, Yuma, Red Cliff, and Cherry Hills Village have inspired Estes Park. According to a recent Trail Gazette article, the northern town will hold a special election in February to ask voters to reclaim telecommunications authority. Approximately 5,800 people live in Estes Park.

The local Estes Park Economic Development Corporation (EDC) adopted a resolution in August urging the town council to take the issue to the voters reports the Trail Gazette. The council voted unanimously to support that idea.

"This resolution resulted from an extensive investigation into how to achieve a key goal in the Town's 2014 strategic plan: 'to encourage optimal use of the Platte River Power Authority's and Town's fiber optic infrastructure,' " [EDC's David] Batey said.

"We must take back the Town's right to decide the best way to provide competitive broadband," Batey said.

"Like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life," stated the EDC.

The town and the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) share ownership of a fiber optic network between Estes Park and nearby Loveland. The ring was installed about 10 years ago for operation of the PRPA Transmission and Substation Electric System. Flooding in 2013 eliminated the other telecommunications infrastructure connecting Estes Park to the outside world, so there is no redundancy.

The City leases several of its fibers to Level 3 for a little over $1,600 per month but connectivity in town varies. Some areas rely on dial-up while others have DSL. There are also several smaller Wi-Fi providers working in the area.

Estes Park is well known as a tourist destination and like other rural areas we have reported on, resort areas often do not have access to fast, reliable, affordable networks. As visitors increasingly expect to be connected 24/7, remote and geographically challenging regions need to rely on themselves to bring better connectivity to businesses, guests, and residents.

The community received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The purpose of the grant was to help the flood disaster area develop a economic diversification and industry job retention and recovery strategy. Part of that strategy involves developing better connectivity - a key to expanding beyond tourism as an economic base.

Thusfar, the community has earmarked $80,000 for a broadband study and $50,000 to develop a technology incubator co-working space.

After Local Communities Reclaim Authority, Comcast Turns Up Speed In Colorado

On November 4th, voters in several Colorado communities decided to reclaim local authority to provide telecommunications services. As Coloradans celebrated their steps toward self-reliance, Comcast felt a little quiver in its cowboy boots. KMGH in Denver is now reporting that Comcast plans to double Internet speeds at no extra charge for some Colorado customers. Customers now signed up for download speeds of 25 Mbps or 50 Mbps will see their speeds double at no extra charge by the end of the year.

KMGH reporter Ryan Tronier also notes that the recent election may have played a part in Comcast's decision to turn up the speed:

While the doubling of internet speeds is great news for Comcast customers, the move may not be as benevolent as it seems.

Comcast's announcement comes on the heels of seven Colorado cities and counties deregulating restrictive internet laws during the midterm elections. 

As many of our readers know, SB152 was passed in 2005 and prevents local governments from establishing telecommunications utilities unless voters approve an exemption. Exemptions passing in Boulder, Wray, Yuma, Cherry Hills Village, Red Cliff, Yuma County, San Miguel County, and Rio Blanco County appear to have been inspired by similar ballot measures years prior in Centennial, Montrose, and Longmont. Longmont is well into deploying its FTTH network.

With President Obama's recent support for reclassification to Title II as part of a free and open Internet plan, and Comcast's ongoing bid to merge with Time Warner Cable, a number of factors are still unsettled. Comcast is inclined to strategically present tidbits like this as a way to sweeten public perception when they want something of value.

Internet Essentials, Comcast's program for low income families was unveiled at a time when the cable behemoth wanted approval for its NBC acquisition. CEO David Cohen has admitted that it was used as a bargaining chip and it has since proved itself to be as much an obstacle as a tool. Unfortunately, Internet Essentials customers will not be included in this speed increase. In a place like Colorado where local communities are asserting their independence from one of the most hated companies in America, turning up the speed for free is the least Comcast can do.

Nevertheless, this is the latest example of how municipal networks, or the possibility of them, can inspire positive behavior from incumbents. In Columbia, Missouri, the local business community could not get adequate services from CenturyLink.  After announcing its intention to explore municipal fiber resources for commercial uses, CenturyLink decided it would offer gigabit service to a limited number of properties.

Colorado Comcast customers can expect their free speed increases by the end of 2014. While the increases are great news for existing customers, they do nothing for competition or for rural folks who are not served by the cable giant. Comcast customers who live in Denver can thank voters in Boulder, Wray, Yuma, Cherry Hills Village, Red Cliff, Yuma County, San Miguel County, and Rio Blanco County for their faster Internet speeds.

Republicans and Democrats Alike Restore Local Authority in Colorado

Yesterday, Colorado voters in three counties and five municipalities were asked whether they want to restore local government authority to build or partner for broadband networks. A 2005 law, lobbied for heavily by incumbents, prevents local municipalities from offering telecommunications services, even if they already have the infrastructure in place.

According to the law, local communities can ask voters to reclaim local authority to establish a telecommunications utility. We have seen Longmont, Montrose, and Centennial take action in prior years. In Longmont, the community has successfully established a telecommunications utility and the community is loving it.

An interesting wrinkle in Colorado is the wide support across the state - communities that vote heavily for Democrats supported local authority for municipal networks in similar numbers that those in areas voting heavily for Republicans.

In Yuma County, where approximately 85% of voters supported the GOP Senate candidate, the measure to reclaim local authority passed with 72% of the vote.  Yuma County overwhelmingly voted for the Republican candidate for Governor and every race in Yuma County went to a Republican candidate. The cities of Yuma and Wray within the County also had their own ballot initiatives to reclaim local authority; those ballot measures also passed by 72%.

Rio Blanco County's numbers were very similar to those in Yuma County. The only exception was that their ballot question 1A on reclaiming local authority passed with 76%. Again, every race went to a Republican candidate in Rio Blanco County.

Boulder, with considerable fiber assets already in place, decided to take the possibility of using those assets to the voters this year and the voters said yes. Much like the voters in Yuma, Wray, Yuma County, and Rio Blanco County, Boulder voters approved their measure 2C by a high 83.6%. Unlike the voters in Yuma, Wray, Yuma County, and Rio Blanco County, Boulder chose to support Democratic candidates in every race. Many of those races were not close.

Approximately 80% of San Miguel County voters, another region supporting Democrats in this cycle, chose to reclaim local authority on ballot measure 1A [PDF].

If we see communities described as strongly supporting either Republican or Democratic candidates also supporting municipal network authority, it is logical that communities with mixed support of both parties would also support local authority initiatives. 

Cherry Hills Village in Arapahoe County and Red Cliff in Eagle County each presented similar ballot questions to voters and both passed. Red Cliff's results are not official as of this writing but are projected at about 60-70% and Cherry Hills Village results are around 80%. Arapahoe County voters elected a mix of Republican and Democratic candidates with some races very close. Eagle County voters also chose mixed representation.

Yesterday's election in Colorado showed us that supporting local government authority to build or partner in fiber networks is popular across the political spectrum. Regardless of their party affiliation, they agreed that those smart decisions should be made at home, not by legislators in Denver. And if they were going to give advice to the new Congress in DC, it would probably be to restore and preserve local decision-making on this issue.

Boulder and Yuma Turn to Voters to Reclaim Authority

Two more Colorado communities will be deciding whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority this fall. Colorado State Bill 152 took away local authority in 2005 but voters in several areas of the state are taking it back. Readers will recall Centennial voters passed the measure 3:1 last fall and Montrose voters approved a similar measure in the spring.

Boulder is home to the Boulder Research and Administration Network (BRAN), a fiber network that currently serves the city, the University of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. A conduit network is already in place and an I-Net connects dozens of municipal facilities. Community leaders decided last summer it made good sense to re-establish the authority needed to make the most of existing resources. The Daily Camera recently spoke with a ballot measure 2C supporter:

"This allows the city of Boulder to determine what to do with a resource that already exists and is already paid for," said Timothy O'Shea, a member of the Yes on 2C steering committee who has worked with Boulder start-ups.

"It will not be the City Council determining that we'll have municipalization of those services," O'Shea said. "Yes on 2C is not about that. It's about the beginning of a dialogue and getting out from under a state law that prevents us from innovating with our existing resources."

Boulder's ballot measure [PDF] reads:

Shall the City of Boulder be authorized to provide high-speed Internet servicès (advanced services), telecommunications services, andior eable television services to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, nonprofit entities and other users of such services, either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, as expressly permitted by çç 29-27-i01 : to '304,' "Competition in Utility and Entertainment Services," of the Colorado Revised Statutes, without limiting its home rule authority?

The Boulder Chamber of Commerce and the Boulder Weekly support the measure. 

Yuma County Colorado

Voters in Yuma County, the city of Yuma, and the Yuma county seat of Wray will decide a similar ballot question during this election. Each community will decide similar language for measures 1B, 2B, and/or 2C [PDF]:


According to a comprehensive story by Gavin Dahl for the Boulder Weekly, Yuma County leaders recognize the key role connectivity plays in economic development:

Local officials like Yuma County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Darlene Carpio say the lack of investment from the private sector has hurt their communities.

“We just don’t have what we need here — the speeds, affordability, reliability,” she says. “The first hurdle is that Senate Bill 152 precludes us from being able to consider all options.” 

Yuma County is located on the northeast border of the state, and is home to approximately 10,000 people. A little over 3,500 live in the municipality of Yuma and about 2,300 live in Wray. Like Centennial, Montrose, and Boulder, community advocates have no specific plans to develop a municipal network at this early stage, but recognize the need to open up possibilities. The Better Internet for Yuma County website states:

There is not a “one size fits all” model that can work for every community. Yuma County formed a Broadband Task Force in 2014, hosting monthly meetings with stakeholders to address the broadband challenges. This dialogue will continue and will help us determine the right way to reach our goal. We will evaluate those models that other successful cities have used, but in the end our system should be tailored for our unique needs. We will also engage with telecommunication providers that are currently operating in our communities in an effort to develop a successful business model to address the long-term needs of our county. Developing this business model is expected to take several months.