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Bill no longer threat to city broadband

Dennis Webb

A bill that threatened to disband Glenwood Springs’ municipal broadband service passed the state Senate this week, but in significantly altered form.A bill that threatened to disband Glenwood Springs’ municipal broadband service passed the state Senate this week, but in significantly altered form.The bill’s sponsor says the city’s system is safe under the revised version of Senate Bill 152, which would limit the ability of local governments to provide cable television, telecommunications and high-speed Internet access services.”We’ve basically changed the bill pretty substantially from the way it was introduced,” said state Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver.The bill’s original version stirred concerns among supporters of Glenwood’s broadband service, before being amended to exempt existing systems.”Glenwood dodged a bullet,” said Andy Anderson of Mountain Technology in Glenwood Springs, one of several local Internet service providers that buy the city’s service and resell it to individual customers.”In its original form that bill would have killed Glenwood’s broadband network entirely,” Anderson said.But he said he still questions the overall premise of the state restricting the right of cities to offer the services addressed in the bill.So does John Hines, who supervises the city’s electric department, which subsidized the startup of the broadband system. In a letter to a state senator, and writing as a private citizen rather than on behalf of the city, he described the bill as “written, bought and paid for by telecom companies.”Hines and Anderson said the bill primarily would benefit telecom giants Qwest and Comcast at the expense of local governments. Hines also wrote that “the bill represents another example of states and feds ganging up on localities to deny them potential sources of much-needed revenue.”Veiga said the bill is aimed at keeping municipalities from having an unfair competitive advantage over private telecommunication companies. While it benefits big companies such as Qwest, it’s probably more important for small providers, she said. Anderson counters that Glenwood’s system benefits local Internet service providers that can’t afford to invest in their own broadband system, but instead are able to sell the city service at the retail level. He worries that the bill would make it hard for other communities to do what Glenwood has done.As introduced, the bill required cities to hold feasibility hearings before starting the service, and to put the proposal to a public vote. It also prohibited them from subsidizing their service, and included “fair play” language requiring them to comply with state and federal laws as private services must do, Veiga said.As amended, only the public vote and fair-play provisions remain, she said. The point of having a vote is to let the public decide whether a city’s plan is fiscally sound, Veiga said.She said the bill amendments have gone far to address the concerns of municipalities over the bill, as evidenced by the Senate’s unanimous vote to approve the bill.One amendment exempts local governments from the public vote requirement in areas where private companies have declined to offer their services. Glenwood Springs went into the broadband business when private companies wouldn’t do so. Marianne Virgili, executive director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, said businesses were leaving town for places such as Basalt and Eagle County that had high-speed Internet service.”Businesses would relocate there just so they could do business on a global level,” she said.She said Glenwood kicked off a movement that is sweeping the state, showing providers that a market exists in smaller communities for broadband service.”I think if it weren’t for Glenwood Springs much of rural Colorado still wouldn’t have broadband,” she said.Anderson said the city’s broadband investment of about $3 million now provides low-cost service to about 5,000 residents and workers, including the city and Garfield County governments, Valley View Hospital and thousands of customers of local ISPs.Glenwood’s arrangement keeps more money in the community, rather than it going to companies such as Qwest and Comcast, he said.Veiga said she thinks her legislation is mild compared to what other states have done to limit government involvement in telecommunications enterprises. She said only time would tell whether the amended version would go far enough to address the goals of the original bill, but she added that it at least would be a start.The bill heads next for consideration in the state House of Representatives.


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