For some time now we’ve noted how one of the biggest reasons the broadband market remains uncompetitive is protectionist state law written by and lobbied for by incumbent ISPs. These laws take various forms, but usually they prevent towns or cities from building their own networks — or partnering with private companies — even in instances where the incumbent ISP refuses to service them. Nineteen such laws have been passed, and an FCC attempt to pre-empt these laws on a federal level was recently scrapped by the courts as over-reach, leaving the issue as problematic and unresolved as ever.
One ray of hope in an otherwise dismal and contentious election for technology comes out of Colorado, where numerous local Colorado communities voted to ignore SB 152, a 2005 state law lobbied for by Comcast and CenturyLink, which required communities jump through numerous, intentionally onerous hoops should they want to simply make decisions regarding their own, local infrastructure. Unlike most of these laws, SB 152 lets local communities issue a referendum to ask voters if they wish to reclaim the right to make these decisions.
As a result, each election season we’ve seen more and more local Colorado communities vote to tell incumbent ISPs they’re tired of the dysfunctional broadband status quo. In this week’s election, all 26 of the municipal broadband-related referendums on the ballot in Colorado communities, including Aspen, were approved by relatively wide margins:
“Results from ballot initiatives varied by modest degree but all left no doubt that the local electorate want out of SB 152. Breckenridge came in with 89 percent. Montezuma County, where local media expressed support of the opt out earlier this month, passed the measure with 70 percent of the vote. The community with the highest percentage of support for opting out of SB 152 was Black Hawk with 97 percent of votes cast. The lowest percentage of “yes” vote was Woodland Park in Teller County with 55 percent. The average “yes” vote was 76 percent.
…Before this election, 22 counties and 47 cities had already voted to shed themselves of SB 152. The majority of these communities did not gently reach out and pick up local authority – voters snatched it back with 70, 80, and 90 percent of votes cast. Clearly they want options beyond the national cable and DSL providers.
Historically, incumbent ISP lobbyists, think tankers, and other paid mouthpieces have tried to intentionally sow dissent by framing municipal broadband as a partisan issue. But time and time again we’ve noted how most of these city-owned networks are being built in Conservative markets, and being tired of shitty, uncompetitive broadband is certainly not a partisan concept. But ISPs have consistently been successful in having politicians claim they’re only looking out for the taxpayer, while ignoring that letting giant, incumbent telecom operators write awful state law is a horrible idea.
That said, Colorado is an outlier in that most laws of this type don’t really let towns and cities vote to ignore the rules. As a result, most of the states that these laws have been passed in (like Tennessee) have become broadband backwaters, where broadband service is as slow — and expensive — as ever before.