The midterm elections received plenty of media coverage, but most of the political punditry focused on the ‘horse race’ mentality of who would win which Congressional seat or Governors’ election. In reality, many states now rely on extensive ballot initiatives to help dictate the way their local governance will work, and with the well-documented gridlock in government, those referendums often matter even more than party politics or majority status. This year citizens voiced their opinion on municipal broadband at the ballot box.
Colorado is one of 20 US states that impose limits on cities and towns seeking to build their own broadband networks. ISPs have lobbied long and hard to prevent ‘competition’ from government entities, or from anyone else for that matter. While the Colorado restriction is much less severe than in other states, it does prevent any municipality in the State from offering broadband to residents without passing a specific ballot question.
Seven counties and towns did that during Tuesday’s election alone. As reported by local news radio KUNC 91.5 on their website “The towns of Boulder, Cherry Hills Village, Red Cliff, Wray and Yuma were all seeking to override a 2005 state law that prohibits them from constructing or operating broadband or telecommunications infrastructure or services. That law, SB05-152 [.pdf], which was pushed by large telecommunications companies, can be overridden by a majority of voters. Rio Blanco and Yuma Counties also had similar measures on the ballot that would have the effect of allowing those counties to get in the broadband game. All of these overrides passed handily, with margins of 70 percent or more in favor of giving authority to local governments to improve broadband access.”
This does not guarantee that any of those municipalities will undertake the expense of creating municipal broadband options for residents, but it does show convincingly that if the matter was left up to the people (rather than their elected representatives) there would be much more competition and even direct competition from government entities in the broadband marketplace. Exit polling reportedly showed that residents favored a tax increase if necessary and viewed internet connectivity as a necessary utility similar to gas, electric and water rather than as a luxury service.
For those who believe this is a local anomaly only indicative of Colorado citizens, keep in mind that Oregon just followed their lead, as Washington did previously with regard to what was once considered an extremist point of view on marijuana legalization – and same sex marriage has been bubbling up to National public acceptance from a State by State campaign of earlier political success. Municipal Broadband may soon be commonplace as citizens continue to circumvent the gridlock and glad-handing of their own elected officials to reshape the legal framework we all live within today.