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Boulder lost out on Google Fiber because of Colorado’s anti-municipal broadband laws

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The city of Boulder, Colorado has 100 miles of fiber optic cable it would like to see become part of a gigabit broadband network. Unfortunately, a Colorado law that requires communities to hold a public referendum before providing any municipal broadband or cable network means that it will have to ask city voters to approve a ballot measure in November allowing the city to find partners to use that fiber and help Boulder get a gig.

According to an article about the effort in The Daily Camera, a Boulder newspaper, that law was also a primary reason Google bypassed Boulder when it was looking for more cities to expand its gigabit fiber-to-the-home network. The story quoted Carl Castillo, Boulder policy adviser, as saying that city officials believed a major reason Boulder was “passed over for the Google Fiber Initiative is the restrictions in state law.”

I’ve had others tell me the same thing about Colorado, and I can think of other examples of state-wide anti-muni network laws causing problems for new gigabit networks in many of the 18 other states that have related laws. That’s why FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s blog post earlier this week suggesting he might invoke the federal government’s preemption power to prevent states from legislating against competitive broadband networks was so noteworthy.

As gigabit networks are announced (although few are actually in operation yet) around the country, it’s becoming clear that the public and politicians believe that faster broadband is worth pushing for in their communities. So while Boulder now has to prep a referendum, it’s at least tackling one of the obstacles standing between it and possible public-private partnership to get a gigabit.

And if Wheeler stands firm, maybe it won’t have to do it alone. And other cities may not have to jump through these hoops at all.

6 Responses to “Boulder lost out on Google Fiber because of Colorado’s anti-municipal broadband laws”

  1. Rob Bernett

    There are countries which require a ballot on anything, with an economy more successful than Boulder. That is a good one, the Boulder inhabitant is allowed to pay, but not to state her or his opinion.

  2. Jack N Fran Farrell

    States should not usurp local powers anymore than the federal government should usurp powers reserved to the states. If it is not an enumerated power then that power should be exercised at the level closest to the people (except Bell CA and Waldo FL).

    • Travis

      Lobbying from the cable industry. Cable companies for years have entered into agreements to expand their coverage to smaller (and therefore less profitable) cities in exchange for the legislators agreeing to preserve their monopoly in the small cities. Basically, the cable companies don’t want to spend the money to build out their network and expand into a smaller city only to face competition and not make the big bucks they expended to make when they made the decision to expand.

  3. Longmont, Boulder’s neighbor to the east, is building a muni FTTH network right now. They held the election, it passed easily, and away they went. I saw a crew installing cable & conduit in north Longmont last week.

    If Google wanted to build in Boulder, the election would have been little more than a formality. My guess is they’re counting on the Longmont network to fail like iProvo did so they can pick it up in bankruptcy for a song.