What to do about SB-152?

Nov 4, 2016

Photo from Flickr user, Sean MacEntee.

If voters in Garfield County, Aspen and Carbondale want out of Senate Bill 152, now is their chance; it’s on the ballot.

The state legislature passed the law in 2005, which prohibits the use of tax dollars to improve broadband service on the local level.

 

A little over a year ago, a contractor accidentally cut a fiber optic cable south of Glenwood Springs. Jim English remembers this well; he’s the head of IT at Colorado Mountain College (CMC). 

 

"It took down all services between South Glenwood to Aspen, including 911 in  Aspen. [It] got people’s attention," he said.  

 

Connectivity went down at two of CMC’s up-valley locations. A few weeks later, English was on a conference call with some higher-ups at the service provider. He asked them why they only had one fiber -- why they didn't have redundancy built within the network.

 

“Well, how do we justify that to our stockholders?” they answered.

 

Western Colorado’s rugged landscape makes building infrastructure expensive. There aren’t many customers, so it’s not exactly the most enticing market. However, English said lack of competition is also at play here.

 

Getting out of Senate Bill 152 doesn’t mean internet costs will be slashed across the board. No, Carbondale will not suddenly provide cheap, high-speed internet for residents to watch Netflix.

 

Jeff Weist is the executive director of the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association, the trade association for cable TV companies. Plenty of cities have opted out, he said.

 

“They tend to build everybody’s hopes up that there’s going to be faster service, but because of the economic realities, at the end of the day it never really happens, it often doesn’t happen."

 

It's certainly true of CMC, which serves several counties, and was able to opt out last year. The college hasn’t done a thing with its newfound freedom, but it’s freedom nonetheless. English assumes this freedom, in the future, will mean local governments partnering with internet companies that, after all, know a thing or two about the Internet.

 

"I mean you really need … you really need the experts to help you," he said.

 

Still, he thinks there’s historical precedent for local governments getting involved. "They built the interstate to move services and to move goods. And that’s sort of what the Internet really is. It’s...basically the new interstate," English said.

 

Voters in Aspen, Carbondale and Garfield County are being asked this election to remove the broadband restriction.