Lift the curb on lo­cal broad­band

The Denver Post - - OPINION -

Nearly 40 ci­ties and coun­ties around Colorado voted last Tues­day to re­claim lo­cal author­ity over broad­band, which a 2005 law took away ab­sent a pub­lic ref­er­en­dum.

The re­sults in al­most all of the elec­tions were not even close, with some of the mar­gins reach­ing 80 per­cent or even 90 per­cent.

The pub­lic clearly un­der­stands the value of al­low­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment in cer­tain cir­cum­stances to in­vest or part­ner in broad­band in­fras­truc­ture (usu­ally fiber op­tic cable lines or cell tow­ers).

No­tably, most of the ci­ties and coun­ties that ap­proved the mea­sures were in ru­ral parts of the state that too of­ten have been left off the In­ter­net su­per­high­way. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily have plans for in­vest­ment, but they do want the free­dom to take ac­tion or to co­op­er­ate with pri­vate providers to en­hance the eco­nomic vi­tal­ity of their re­gion.

How­ever, mis­guided leg­is­la­tion from a decade ago pro­hib­ited ci­ties and coun­ties from spend­ing money on im­prov­ing broad­band ser­vice with­out a pub­lic vote. Sen­ate Bill 152 in 2005 was sup­ported by the industry to en­sure pri­vate In­ter­net providers wouldn’t have to com­pete with gov­ern­ment­funded data net­works, ac­cord­ing to The Den­ver Post’s John Aguilar.

In gen­eral, we don’t like the idea of gov­ern­ment com­pet­ing with pri­vate busi­nesses that are al­ready serv­ing the mar­ket, either. Scarce pub­lic resources should be con­cen­trated on pro­grams and ser­vices that gov­ern­ment re­ally is uniquely qual­i­fied to pro­vide.

But there are com­mu­ni­ties in Colorado, as crit­ics point out, where cus­tomers’ only choices for In­ter­net ser­vice are slow and ex­pen­sive — if they have any choice at all.

And that is par­tic­u­larly true of ru­ral Colorado.

Un­til this year, In­ter­net providers poured money into lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to try to de­feat bal­lot ini­tia­tives that al­lowed lo­cal ac­tion on broad­band. But this time they stood back, maybe re­al­iz­ing that voter ap­proval is much eas­ier to ob­tain than than was thought when SB 152 passed. In­deed, the ref­er­en­dums have be­come so au­to­matic that they are clearly a waste of time and money. The leg­is­la­ture should sim­ply lift the re­quire­ment.

Most mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties don’t have the money or sys­tems in place to cre­ate their own net­works any­way. Most don’t want to re­place the pri­vate sec­tor but to part­ner with it, said at­tor­ney Ken Fell­man.

Cit­i­zens should be able to rely on the judg­ment of their lo­cal elected of­fi­cials to make the call on whether pub­lic money should go into broad­band ser­vices.

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