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Connectivity Cornucopia: We Give Thanks!

This time of year, people come together to celebrate the things they are thankful for and appreciate. Here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we want to take a moment to appreciate all the communities, people, and wonderful ideas that help spread the concept of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

A few of us looked into the cornucopia that is feeding the growth of publicly owned Internet networks and picked out some of our favorites. There are more people, places, and ideas than we could write about in one post. Nevertheless, it's always good to step back and consider how the many contributions to the Connectivity Cornucopia accelerate us toward high-quality Internet access for all.

People: Colorado Local Voters

We appreciate the voters in Colorado who chose to reclaim local authority. This year, 26 more counties and municipalities asked voters to opt out of restrictive SB 152, and all chose to take back telecommunications authority. They joined the ranks of a groundswell of local Colorado citizens who have voiced their opinion to Denver - 95 communities in all. They know that they are the best situated to make decisions about local connectivity and, even if they don’t have solid plans in place, want the ability to investigate the options. Colorado voters rock!

Place: Ammon, Idaho  

The unfolding municipal fiber network in the city of Ammon, Idaho (pop. 14,000) continues to attract a steady stream of honors and opportunities. In August, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) named Ammon’s open access network the 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year.  Two months later, the city said it is partnering in a $600,000 initiative with the University of Utah to research and develop a series of next-generation networking technologies supporting public safety, including broadband public emergency alerts. With Ammon’s new fiber network, residents are giving thanks for a system that allows them, among other things, to change their Internet Service Provider (ISP) simply and quickly from a sign-up portal.

We give thanks for Ammon’s innovation and their desire to give people choice.

Policy: Clever Conduit Approaches

Multiple communities have created smart conduit policies to bring connectivity to their residents. Conduit is a reinforced tube that protects and guides cables that run underground. Despite how boring conduit policy might sound, it can bring about better connectivity and ensure community control of public infrastructure. Smart conduit policy is a cornerstone for municipal networks and creating infrastructure for potential future partners. For instance, Mount Vernon, Washington, has its own open access network with eight different Internet Service Providers. The city ensures that developers install conduit in all new developments and then turn control of it over to the city. There are many more excellent models of conduit policy, just check out Lincoln, Nebraska; Centennial, Colorado; or Saint Louis Park, Minnesota.

We understand the importance of smart conduit policy and are thankful for the fact that an increasing number of communities are onboard with implementing similar measures.

So Much To Appreciate!

These are only a few of the people, places, and policies that produce better connectivity for local communities. We're thankful for them and for many others as more communities realize the value of publicly owned Internet networks. We wish you a relaxing and warm holiday and hope you have a moment to pause and consider all you have to be thankful for.


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Photo of the turkeys courtesy of Farmgirlmiriam via Pixaby.

Photo of the cornucopia courtesy of Cliparts.co.

Colorado Conversation: New ILSR Podcast!

In early November, voters in 26 additional Colorado communities chose to opt out of SB 152. The state’s restrictive law took away local telecommunications authority in 2005. The results in many of the towns and counties were overwhelming majorities - loud and clear in favor of local authority. Now, 95 local communities across the state have reclaimed local authority.

We covered the election results in detail on MuniNetworks.org and what those results say about local communities’ desire for better connectivity. We spoke with local community leaders. As part of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Building Local Power podcast, episode #5, Christopher and I also discussed what those results say about the desire to make connectivity choices at the local level.

Beyond Colorado...

In addition to Colorado, we also talked about local publicly owned networks in other parts of the nation and how they are changing the expectations for Internet users in urban and rural America.

We also discussed the general election results that brought Donald Trump to the presidency, specifically noting the impact that his ascension brings to local communities’ ability to provide Internet connectivity to their residents. We pondered the implications of a Trump presidency on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s mission of working across partisan lines in local communities.

We invite you to check out episode 5 of the Building Local Power podcast and check out other episodes, all highlighting the work we do at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Estes Park, CO, Moving Ahead One Year After Opt Out Vote

Estes Park, Colorado, recently moved into the design engineering phase as it considers how to bring high-quality connectivity to businesses and residents.

One Step At A Time

With a $1.37 million grant from the Energy Mineral Impact Assistance Fund, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) is providing the funding to proceed with the engineering phase. Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority (LETA) is providing additional grant funding to extend the project further to include a wider geographic area for 911 and public safety purposes.

This phase of the project should be complete by next summer and will result in a shovel-ready plan. At that time, the Town Board will consider the information and decide how to proceed. The goal is to develop a network to make Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) capacity available to the Estes Park Light and Power service area.

So Far, So Good

Last fall, 92 percent of those voting on the issue chose to opt out of SB 152, the restrictive state law that prevents Colorado local governments from offering telecommunications services or advanced services or partnering with private partners to do so. Since then, they have hired a consultant to draft a feasibility study and examine model business options.

The community’s municipal electric utility already has fiber in place, and has the personnel, knowledge, and significant assets to ease the operation and management of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network utility. The consulting firm estimated that, if the city chooses to deliver services themselves, they should focus on Internet access rather than adding video and voice to the list of services. Estimates for the project are approximately $27 - $30 million.

For video of the community's Project Stakeholder Kickoff Presentations, check out their Broadband Initiative page.

Voices From Colorado's Local Authority Sweep On PRX

Colorado voters overwhelmingly reclaimed local authority in 26 counties and municipalities on Tuesday, November 8th. The total number of Colorado communities that have now reclaimed local authority is 95.

Citizens chose to opt out of state law SB 152, which prevented local governments from offering telecommunication services or advanced services to the general public. The law also bars them from partnering with the private sector and since 2008, a growing number of communities have put the question on the ballot. 

We reached out to Sallie Clarke, County Commissioner in El Paso County and Brian Waldes, Director of Finance and Information Technology in Breckenridge for comment on their communities’ ballot measures; both passed with hearty margins. We also touched base with Virgil Turner who is the Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement in Montrose, which passed a similar initiative in 2014.

We’ve put together their comments and some information about SB 152 in audio form. The story runs for 4:37.

Hear the story on PRX...

Read more about the recent election results and how all 26 communities chose to opt out, as well as see a map and details on the results.

Colorado Voters Choose Local Control In 26 Communities

We didn't need a crystal ball, magic potion, or ESP to predict that local Colorado voters would enthusiastically reclaim telecommunications authority yesterday. Twenty-six more local governments put the issue on the ballot and citizens fervently replied, “YES! YES, WE DO!”

Colorado local communities that want to take action to improve their local connectivity are hogtied by SB 152, the state law passed in 2005. Unless they hold a referendum and ask voters if they wish to reclaim the right to do so, the law prevents local governments from providing service or partnering with the private sector. Since the big incumbents that pushed the law through aren't providing necessary connectivity, their only choice is to opt out and work with new partners or move forward on their own.

This year’s results include seven counties and 19 municipalities. Many of those communities simply don't want lobbyists in Denver dictating whether they can move ahead in the digital economy. Over the past few years, the momentum has grown and, as places like Longmont, Rio Blanco County, and Centennial prove that local authority can improve local connectivity, more local governments have put the issue on the ballot. 

The Big “Yes” In 95

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.

This election brings the total to 29 of Colorados 64 counties or 45 percent of counties. Sixty-six of the state's municipalities have opted out. In total, 95 local governments have restored their authority to create local Internet choice.

See the table and map below for a complete list of election results for this year AND to see where other communities have passed the law in years prior.

The State Law Coloradans Don’t Want

In 2005, the Centennial State passed SB 152, a law advanced by large incumbent providers aimed at limiting competition. Under the guise of a “level playing field” for big national companies, the state law prevents local government from providing “telecommunication service” and “advanced service” to the public. In places where those same big corporate providers don’t care to offer it either, residents, businesses, and governments are extremely disadvantaged. Economic development is at risk; school kids can’t learn how to use 21st century tools; healthcare is hobbled.

Communities can, however, hold a referendum and choose to opt out of SB 152, which many have already done. 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.

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Munis Or Partnerships, Opting Out Comes First

Colorado communities presenting the measure to voters and elected officials point out that, even where there are no current plans for towns or counties to establish a municipal Internet utility, opting out is a necessary precursor to partnerships with the private sector. In a recent Gazette guest column, El Paso County commissioner Sallie Clarke wrote:

It just makes sense that if public entities are building the "middle mile" infrastructure for public safety purposes, private companies should be able to use excess capacity to make it more efficient to extend broadband services. If those fiber optic lines to its facilities and those lines have excess capacity, it is more efficient for private providers to tie into those lines and build out service to homes and businesses.

El Paso County commissioners voted unanimously this summer to put the issue on the ballot. The situation is dire and incumbents aren't helping. There are a number of residents in rural areas of the county who complain about no access. "We can't get providers to give us service because there is no access to the 'middle mile,” said Chris Davis of the Canterbury Estate homeowners’ association.

According to a Cortez Journal editorial, the national providers have not honored their promises to connect rural Colorado, so they should let others give it a try:

Internet providers have cherry-picked the lucrative markets and left small communities and even more sparsely populated rural areas with substandard Internet services that are far from high speed. Now it is time for the public sector to step out from under SB 152 restrictions.

There were also two large forest fires in El Paso County this past summer and lack of connectivity made it difficult for emergency personnel to communicate. One plan is to install conduit to encourage private providers to serve the area.

Teller County and El Paso County are working together to search for ways to improve connectivity in the region. According to their broadband plan, average speeds in the region are 8 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1.7 Mbps upload, well below the FCC’s definition of broadband of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Before they make any investment, however, Teller and El Paso County had to opt out of SB 152. Ballots cast passed the measure by 56 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

Hello, Denver! Your Citizens Don't Want This Bad Law!

During the past year, the avalanche of communities voting to opt out of SB 152 in fall and spring referendums sent a clear and persistent message to the state lagislature: the law is outdated and unwelcome. Rather than force local governments to spend public funds on an election burlesque to satisfy the powerful cable and DSL providers, state elected officials need to respond to constituent priorities.

They can start by restoring local authority to all of Colorado. This is a bipartisan issue with strong support on both sides. In Dolores County 76 percent of voters supported Donald Trump and in Boulder County 71 percent of voters supported Hillary Clinton - both counties strongly supported reclaiming local telecommunications authority. The state legislature can repeal SB 152 so no other communities need to waste time and money on a vote to reclaim local control when they already know the outcome.

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Counties (numbers in parens correspond to position on map)

(1) Dolores County 78% (2) El Paso County 66% (3) Garfield County 73%
(4) Larimer County 72% (5) Montrose County 71% (6) Montezuma County 70%
(7) Teller County 56%

Municipalities

Arvada 72% Aspen 91% Basalt 91%
Black Hawk 97% Breckenridge 89% Carbondale 86%
Cripple Creek 61% Dolores 86% Golden 77%
Green Mountain Falls 70% Hudson 81% Lafayette 81%
New Castle 78% Palisade 78% Parachute 78%
Silt 66% Superior 90% Victor 66%
Woodland Park 55%

Aspen Public Radio Digs Into Local SB 152 Ballot Measures

On November 4th, Aspen public radio news featured a story about local ballot initiatives to opt out of state law SB 152 in Aspen, Carbondale, and Garfield County. The western communities are three of 26 that have the measure on their ballots this election. El Paso County, Montezuma County, and the small town of Dolores are only a few others.

Justification

Reporter Wyatt Orme spoke with Jim English, head of IT at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) who described how, because of lack of redundancy, a single fiber-optic cut a year ago left the community isolated. "It took down all services between South Glenwood to Aspen, including 911 in Aspen. [It] got people’s attention," he said.

When English had the opportunity to ask the incumbent why they had never deployed another line for safety's sake, he was dismayed by the answer: “Well, how do we justify that to our stockholders?”

Freedom Found

CMC presented the opt out issue to voters last year, who handily supported the measure, giving the college the freedom to explore working with partners or on their own. SB 152, passed in 2005, was heavily lobbied by national incumbents and designed to prevent competition. It prevented CMC and any local government that had not opted out from tackling the problem of poor connectivity on their own with Internet infrastructure investment or seeking a private sector partner to solve the problem. To English - and to many of the local governments that have voted to opt out of the restrictive state law - choosing to opt out is a matter of local control and freedom:

[H]e thinks there’s historical precedent for local governments getting involved. "They built the interstate to move services and to move goods. And that’s sort of what the Internet really is. It’s...basically the new interstate," English said.

Listen to the entire story at Aspen Public Radio.

El Paso County, CO, Commissioner Urges "Yes" On Local Authority

This has been a “loud” general election. The candidates, the campaign ads, and the supporters have all blasted their messages to voters in every state, drowning out some initiatives that are equally important. In Colorado, 26 local governments are asking voters to decide whether or not to opt out of SB 152, the state’s restrictive law passed in 2005 that looted local telecommunications authority.

In addition to seven counties, 19 municipalities have the issue on the ballot. Most of them use similar language from years past, when dozens of Colorado local governments presented the same question to voters.

El Paso County

There are about 664,000 people in the county, with approximately 456,000 living in the county seat of Colorado Springs. Rural residents and businesses typically struggle to obtain Internet access. County Question 1A reads:

Without increasing taxes, shall El Paso County have the authority to provide, or to facilitate or partner or coordinate with service providers for the provision of, “advanced (high-speed internet) service,” “cable television service,” and “telecommunications service,” either directly, indirectly, or by contract, to residential, commercial, nonprofit, government or other subscribers, and to acquire, operate and maintain any facility for the purpose of providing such services, restoring local authority and flexibility that was taken away by Title 29, Article 27, Part 1 of the Colorado Revised Statutes? 

Recently, El Paso County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Sallie Clarke published a guest column in the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Gazette urging voters to support the measure. She noted that, even thought the initiative is important to the community, the local press has been quiet about the measure. With media filled by the Clinton/Trump race, there is little room for anything else, but she spells out why El Paso County needs to opt out of SB 152.

Staying Competitive

Clarke notes that dozens of other Colorado communities have already voted to opt out of SB 152. So far, 69 municipalities and counties have opted out. A few, including Longmont and Glenwood Springs, chose to opt out years ago and have already shown how to take advantage of publicly owned infrastructure to improve quality of life. Some, such as Centennial, are moving ahead with publicly owned infrastructure and partnerships with the private sector.

According to Clarke, El Paso County also has its sights set on working with private providers:

Initiative 1A permits, by public vote, an opt-out provision that allows commercial providers to tap into El Paso County’s existing or planned fiber and create partnership opportunities which are currently unavailable due to the restrictions imposed by state government. The measure restores local control over the future of our technology needs and resident accessibility, especially evident in today’s changing cyber world.

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She also notes that a “yes” vote can have ancillary benefits:

1A may also serve to lower the wholesale cost of broadband supply to commercial internet service providers, making it economically feasible for residential and commercial delivery and expansion of broadband services to more remote areas. It could make faster connections possible, improving business communications.

Collaboration And Opportunity

Clarke notes that several local communities in El Paso County and nearby Teller County are also voting on the opt out measure and considering ways to improve local connectivity. She writes that recent safety concerns have contributed to the county’s decision to ask voters to reclaim local authority:

Commissioners said, during the discussion on this initiative, that the lack of high-speed data and cellular communications were challenges during both the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. It just makes sense that if public entities are already building the “middle mile” infrastructure for public safety purposes, private companies should be able to use excess capacity to make it more efficient to extend broadband services. If those fiber optic lines to its facilities and those lines have excess capacity, it is more efficient for private providers to tie into those lines and build out service to homes and businesses.

Constituents in some rural areas of El Paso County have no Internet access because there is no middle mile close enough to make last mile investment worth their while. Like many of the other communities that voted to opt out of SB 152 in the past, El Paso County may not have solid plans in place, but they know they can't create those solid plans until after November 8th.

A “yes” vote on 1A is a vote for local partnership opportunities and incentives to provide high-speed Internet services for the benefit of our citizens.

Radio Time With Blake Mobley From Rio Blanco County, Colorado

Rio Blanco County, Colorado, is moving along nicely with its Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) infrastructure investment. Readers will recall that two years ago, voters in the mostly rural county in the northwest corner of the state reclaimed local authority and soon after the community commenced plans to improve connectivity.

In a recent interview of KDNK’s Geekspeak, Rio Blanco County’s IT Director Blake Mobley described details of the project as it moves forward. He also describes how people in the county are hungry for better Internet access. The guys touch on local control and how several other communities in Colorado are voting on the right to make their own telecommunications decisions this election season. From the show website:

On this year’s ballot, voters in Carbondale, Silt, Parachute and Garfield County will decide whether or not to opt out of restrictions on local government control over high speed Internet. Blake Mobley is IT Director for Rio Blanco County. Blake talks with Matt McBrayer and Gavin Dahl about Rio Blanco’s own ballot initiative, and the county’s decision to invest in infrastructure that is now delivering gigabit fiber to homes and businesses in Rangely and Meeker.

Christopher also interviewed Blake back in 2015 for episode #158 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

CO Editors Want A "Yes": It's Only Logical

As Election Day approaches, people in a number of Colorado communities will be addressing special ballot questions on local telecommunications authority. Editors of the local news source, the Journal, encourage voters in Montezuma County and Dolores to opt out of harmful SB 152 and reclaim authority taken away in 2005.

“That Industry Has Had Its Chance”

According to editors at the Journal, SB 152 may have sounded like a good thing to legislators in 2005, but big corporate providers have not lived up to promises to bring high-quality connectivity to rural Colorado:

More than a decade later, that industry has had its chance. Internet providers have cherry-picked the lucrative markets and left small communities and even more sparsely populated rural areas with substandard Internet services that are far from high speed. Now it is time for the public sector to step out from under SB 152 restrictions.

By our last count, 26 towns and counties will offer voters the choice to opt out, but we may discover more as we continue to research before Election Day. The communities who choose to vote on the measure don’t necessarily have solid plans to invest in Internet access infrastructure, but if they want to work with a private sector partner or on their own, they must first hold a referendum. 

It's Logical

As Election Day approaches, we anticipate more editorials expressing support; local communities are tired of waiting for better connectivity. As stated by the editors here:

Ballot issues 1A and 2A, respectively, allow local governments to investigate the feasibility of providing broadband services as a public utility or as part of a public-private partnership with taxpayer support for infrastructure.

That is logical, because most of us think of the Internet exactly as an essential utility, right along with electricity, gas and water.

The need is obvious. County voters, vote “yes.” Dolores voters, check the “yes” boxes on both 1A and 2A.

Loveland On The Trail Of Better Connectivity

Loveland, Colorado, was one of nearly 50 communities that voted to opt out of SB 152 last fall. Ten months later, they are working with a consultant to conduct a feasibility study to assess current infrastructure and determine how best to improve connectivity for businesses and residents.

Examining Assets, Analyzing Options

According to the Request for Proposals (RFP) released in April, the city has some of its own fiber that’s used for traffic control. Loveland also uses the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) fiber network but wants to enhance service all over the community, focusing on economic development, education, public safety, healthcare, and “overall quality of life.” Community leaders also want recommendations on which policies would encourage more and better service throughout Loveland.

The city has its own electric, water, sewer, wastewater, and solid waste utilities, so is no stranger on operating essential utilities. Approximately 69,000 people live in the community located in the southeast corner of the state.

They want a network that will provide Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second or Mbps) connectivity on both download and upload (symmetrical) and 10 Gigabit (Gbps) symmetrical connections for businesses and other entities. The network needs to be scalable so it can grow with the community and its needs. Reliability, affordability, and inclusivity are other requirements in Loveland.

Loveland began the process this summer by asking residents and businesses to respond to an online survey. The city will consider all forms of business models from dark fiber to publicly owned retail to open access and public-private partnerships (P3). They should have results by early in 2017, according to the Broadband Initiative Calendar.

Staying Competitive

Fort Collins is just north of Loveland and the two communities continue to expand toward each other. Fort Collins is also taking steps to improve connectivity for residents, businesses, and local government. Just west of Loveland is Estes Park, where the town's broadband initiative is underway and has secured approximately $1.3 million from the state Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). Estes Park will use the funds for engineering design of a broadband utility. With these two adjacent communities taking steps to improve connectivity, Loveland has little choice but to do the same to stay competitive.

Things Are Rockin' In Colorado

We expect to see more activity this election season in Colorado; by last count, 22 towns and counties will hold ballot initiatives to opt out of SB 152. These communities are joining the growing list from the Centennial State who want to reclaim local authority looted by the state legislature 11 years ago when it passed SB 152. Many of these communities don’t have plans in place for projects, but they want the right to make their own decisions.

If the legislature would repeal the state restrictions, local communities would not need to waste taxpayer dollars with expensive referendums that typically pass in the 70 - 90 percent range. Towns and counties in Colorado, however, are not waiting for Denver to act; they are taking matters into their own hands.