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Comcast, CenturyLink smacked down in Colo.: Voters approve city-owned broadband network

Fort Collins residents said they want a municipal network that could offer faster speeds and lower prices. Comcast, one of the nation's largest internet providers, faces a growing municipal broadband movement in the progressive state.

Fort Collins, Colo., supporters of ballot issue 2B that will enable the city to build its own broadband network to compete with Comcast and CenturyLink. The issue passed on Tuesday, 57 percent to 43 percent.
Fort Collins, Colo., supporters of ballot issue 2B that will enable the city to build its own broadband network to compete with Comcast and CenturyLink. The issue passed on Tuesday, 57 percent to 43 percent.Read moreFort Collins Citizens Broadband Committee

Fort Collins, Colo., voters rebuked Comcast and CenturyLink on Election Day, approving a ballot question enabling the city to build its own high-speed broadband network even as anti-broadband opponents poured more than $450,000 into the campaign to defeat it.

Fort Collins Citizens Broadband Committee officials said they spent only about $15,000 to rally voters behind their cause. The vote in Tuesday's referendum was 21,641 to 16,228, with the ballot question approved 57 percent to 43 percent, Colorado election results showed.

"To win against one of the most politically powerful telecom companies in the world, just amazing," said Glen Akins, a committee leader. "There is real discontent with the status quo, and that is directed at both Comcast and CenturyLink."

Municipal broadband activists maintained that a city-owned broadband network could offer faster internet speeds at half the price of Comcast's service. The municipal network could cost about $150 million.

The Fort Collins voters' rebuke to Comcast was all the more remarkable because the Philadelphia cable giant recently opened a 600-employee customer call center there. But voters seemed to be turned off by television advertisements and mailers and the deluge of outside money into the anti-broadband campaign, Akins and another local official said.

A Comcast official in Colorado did not return a phone call.

CenturyLink is the incumbent telephone company in Fort Collins and offers internet service based on older DSL technology.

Comcast, one of the nation’s largest residential internet providers, and other telecom companies have lobbied hard in Washington and state capitals against city-run internet networks, saying that such government entities compete with private business. The companies say that municipal broadband networks can be taxpayer boondoggles.

Colorado has become a hotbed of municipal broadband proposals. Fort Collins is the largest Colorado community to get this far; on Tuesday, 19 other communities separately voted to go their own way on internet service.

The Coloradoan, the local newspaper, reported that anti-broadband forces spent $451,000 opposing the ballot question, noting that it appeared to be a record and was more than the amount spent in 2013 by those who opposed a five-year fracking moratorium within the Fort Collins city limits.

Fort Collins’ municipal broadband measure is now expected to be taken up by the city council, which is considered likely to use the experience of nearby Longmont, Colo. That town has already built out a broadband network. Akins said the town of Loveland, located between Longmont and Fort Collins, could now also consider a municipal network to remain competitive for economic-development purposes.

State Rep. Jeni James Arndt, who represents Fort Collins, said, “I do believe there will be pushback in the capital” from Comcast and CenturyLink against municipal broadband, though she hasn’t heard of any proposals yet.

In another election watched by municipal broadband proponents Tuesday, Jenny Durkan was elected mayor of Seattle, defeating Cary Moon. In Seattle, also a major Comcast cable-TV and internet market, activists have been talking about a municipal broadband network for about a decade. Moon was viewed as supportive of a network, while Durkan had the financial backing of major corporations, including Amazon and Comcast, an official with advocacy group Upgrade Seattle told the Inquirer.