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The Municipal Broadband Fight in Longmont, Colorado

Posted by susabelle at 6:58 PM on September 25, 2011

I recently moved across the country, and part of that move included finding local resources for Internet, phone service, utilities, etc.  I ended up getting Internet and phone service from the local tel-co, which happens to be Qwest (“now Century Link,” as their ads keep saying).  I avoid cable most of the time because of problems with customer service I’ve had in the past, plus I already have enough holes drilled through the walls of my house to feed the satellite service we are fond of.

Not too long after I got here, however, I read in the paper about a ballot measure coming up asking use to approve the development of local, municipal broadband services.  In fact, the fiber optics were installed several years ago, and wireless units are atop most of our street lights, just waiting to be flipped on for public use.  The fiber optic and wireless network is already being used by the city for communications.  I can even see the wireless unit closest to my house on my list of available networks.  The problem?  My state, Colorado, has a law regulating municipal broadband.  Unless the people in the municipality approve it by a vote.

A measure to give this town municipal broadband was on the ballot three years ago.  The local tel-co and cable company (Comcast) streamed money into a campaign against the measure, totaling about $254,000, which is more money than even the mayor spent to get elected.  The measure was defeated 56% to 44%.  The big argument the tel-cos and cable company made?  “The availability of municipal broadband will reduce competition and therefore increase prices.”

So, once again, as the measure goes up for a vote in November, we are again hearing from the tel-cos and cable companies.  “It’s going to reduce competition.”  “It’s going to create higher prices because the city has to maintain these systems and who’s going to pay for that?”

Fortunately, I think people are a little smarter than they were a few years ago.  Every time they write that check to Qwest for $80 for Internet and basic home phone, they wonder if the city offered broadband, would it be a little cheaper?  Maybe a LOT cheaper?  Considering our municipal-run electric utility sells us electricity for about 6.9 cents a kilowatt hour, I can only imagine that the broadband cost might be pretty darned low.

And even if it isn’t, and Qwest or Comcast end up being more cost-effective, that’s great for them, and will keep them customers.  If they are worried about losing customers to a cheaper alternative, then maybe they should examine their pricing a little more closely and see if they can find a more competitive pricing structure.

I’m hoping that the people of my town don’t fall for the ridiculous counter-advertising that the tel-cos and cable companies will be spreading our way in the next month or so.  I hope they all look at that exceedingly cheap electric bill, do the math, and realize that our little city can give us a much better deal on broadband, the same way they are giving us a much better deal on electric service.