Spurred by the actions of a local school district that signaled its intent to expand its broadband plant into nearby residences, the Colorado Cable & Telecommunications Association has successfully backed a bill demanding referenda on broadband projects by cities and other public entities.
“This was our No. 1 priority this session,” said Jeff Weist, deputy executive director for the state cable association, adding that there has been a lot of interest by cities in municipal broadband, but the association decided that it was time for some rules on taxpayer-owned telecommunications systems when Pueblo School District 60 entered the fray.
The district made a deal this year with a Kansas-based company to link all of its schools via fiber optics. But part of the deal allows the vendor to use the school plant to offer Internet connections to retail customers in competition with local providers Comcast Corp. and Qwest Communications International Inc. In return for the use of its plant, the school district gets 25% of the revenues from the retail sales.
Colorado Springs is also talking about a possible municipal operation, even though the city already hosts multiple providers, Weist said.
Qwest and the state’s cable operators teamed up to promote Senate Bill 152. In addition to the public-vote requirement, the bill will also subject taxpayer-owned broadband operations to the same state and federal rules as those applied to commercial providers.
The bill initially attracted much opposition from expected sources, such as the cities. But one opponent was unexpected: Colorado-based EchoStar Communications Corp.
The direct-broadcast satellite provider is apparently in negotiations with cities to place Wi-Fi hardware on public property as part of a triple-play product strategy.
“That’s the first we’ve heard about it,” Weist said of EchoStar’s plans.
The CCTA made it clear to the DBS company that the bill doesn’t prevent local deal-making.
Supporters also had to edit out language barring cross subsidy and a ban on antitrust immunity. Those issues may be revisited if abuses surface, Weist indicated.
Gov. Bill Owens will have 10 days, once he officially receives the bill from the legislature, to sign it into law.