Many of us take our ability to access high-speed internet for granted. However, one group of Coloradans does not have this luxury—residents of small towns and rural areas where broadband infrastructure does not exist. Internet speeds in these communities are commensurate with the dial-up connections of the 1990s.
High-speed internet has become a necessity for businesses, schools, farms and ranches, hospitals, and local government. Municipalities that lack broadband access cannot attract businesses into their communities, which results in stifled job creation.
Why don’t these areas have access to high-speed internet? The problem is that private broadband providers—think Comcast, CenturyLink, and AT&T—do not offer services in these smaller rural communities. This is because the cost of building the broadband infrastructure vastly outweighs the profits these companies could generate from residents. The return on investment is simply not there.
Local governments have identified this problem and are trying to fill the high-speed internet access void by providing municipal broadband for their citizens. However, they face several unnecessary legislative barriers.
Enter the cable and telecommunications industries. They argued that allowing municipalities to provide broadband would create unfair competition in the future, and lobbied heavily for new restrictions. Colorado politicians listened. In 2005, the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation requiring municipalities to first gain voter approval before providing broadband to their citizens.
The good news is that voter approval for municipal broadbands is often granted. The bad news is that local governments must waste time and money to gain voter approval.
This year, Senate Bill 42 was introduced to remove these restrictions—and Colorado Common Cause was at the Capitol in support. Unfortunately, the bill never made it to the Senate floor for a full vote. It was instead killed in the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee by a 4-3 vote.
But this fight isn’t over. The ability to access high-speed internet is now a prerequisite to fully participate in society. Limits to municipal broadband are nothing more than protection laws for the telecommunications industry, and must be beaten back.
We will continue fighting to give local governments the freedom to provide high-speed internet access to their residents. Stay tuned.
Office: Colorado Common Cause
Issues: Media and Democracy