Colorado OKs Public-Vote Mandate


Spurred by the actions of a local school district that has 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 of the state cable association. Cities have shown a lot of interest in municipal broadband, he said, but the association decided it was time for some rules for taxpayer-owned telecommunications systems when Pueblo School District 60 entered the fray.

The measure received final legislative approval from the state Senate on April 21. Gov. Bill Owens has 10 days from when he officially receives the bill from the legislature to sign it into law.

The district made a deal this year with a Kansas-based company to link all of its schools via fiber optics. But contract terms allow the vendor to use the school's plant to offer Internet connections to retail customers, in competition with local providers Comcast Corp. and Qwest. 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 now 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 applied to commercial providers.

The bill initially attracted much opposition from the expected places, 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 wireless fidelity 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 subsidies and banning antitrust immunity. Those issues may be revisited if abuses surface, Weist indicated.