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COMCAST 2CPS29 : Municipal broadband? Superior to weigh question for November ballot

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08/08/2016 | 05:17am CEST

Aug. 07--Two years after Boulder residents voted to give city officials the power to examine how a potential municipal broadband system would function -- providing options between three forms of community broadband: municipal, public-private or fully private -- neighboring Superior will vote Monday to send similar language to its November's ballot.

"We'll be reviewing that ballot language," said Mayor Clint Folsom. "If the board is good with it, then it will become a ballot item that people can vote for (in November)."

While an approval of the ballot item this fall would provide the town an option to begin offering broadband to residents, officials say they currently have no plans to begin such an offer.

"This is really about creating the option for residents," Folsom said. "We as a town just want to be in the best position for new opportunities that might come along the way in the future."

Because of a 2005 state law, cities must ask voters whether they can provide telecommunications services, essentially entering the marketplace with other companies such as Comcast and CenturyLink.

Among other provisions, the state law requires local governments to secure voter approval before entering into the broadband business. Without such approval, the law limits the ability of Colorado municipalities to provide a wide spectrum of services, including: free internet service in city libraries, parks and community centers; leveraging government infrastructure, and partnering with private businesses to provide affordable and high-speed internet service throughout the entire community; and direct-provision of broadband services by municipal governments.

"You're not at the end of the line, and you're not at the front of the line if you do this," said attorney Kenneth Fellman, who last month summarized municipal broadband and what an approval of a ballot question would allow for town officials. "We're going to see a whole lot more communities start to adopt this."

The exemption from the law would allow Superior to consider numerous options for being involved in broadband services. Options include installing and leasing fiber to private entities, creating a public-private partnership to provide services, or directly providing services, officials said. They added that the ballot item would not prevent any private business, including existing broadband providers, from initiating or continue to provide such services.

While an approval of the ballot question would open up the service as an option for officials, residents have responded generally favorably throughout the process, according to Folsom.

"The people I've spoken with are very much in favor of putting this on the ballot," he said. "There's a very limited cost to putting the question on the ballot since we are already having an election.

"I'm hopeful it will pass," Folsom added. "There's a good amount of support (among officials) for it, and the public has certainly been in favor of it. I just don't see any downsides of it."

Last month, Erie officials weighed a plan to refer a similar initiative to voters. Because Erie does not have a regularly-scheduled municipal election in 2016, the price to place this one topic on an Erie ballot this year would have cost the town between $50,000 to $65,000. Instead, Erie officials opted to forgo the issue and will study it for possible inclusion on the 2017 ballot.

During a retreat last month, Superior's Board of Trustees broached early discussions for a ballot its ballot question.

Besides the perks of a faster internet connection, forced competition in the form of local government fosters positive business, said Fellman.

"Comcast and CenturyLink thrive in some of these more metro areas because sometimes the thought it is that no competition is better than no business," he said.

"Communities all around this state have looked at this -- from the most liberal to the most conservative cities have realized this works," Fellman added.

Because Superior is already having an election for town board positions in November, there will not be significant costs to add a ballot question, according to officials.

If the ballot measure passes, the town has budgeted for a feasibility study to be conducted at a cost of $20,000.

"It's just something that gives us an option early on," said Trustee Joe Cirelli. "Just as long as people understand the process and know that it's not something that is going to be available right off the bat, I think it's a good idea."

Anthony Hahn: 303-473-1422, hahna@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/_anthonyhahn

___

(c)2016 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)

Visit the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) at www.dailycamera.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News

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