The city council of Fort Collins, Colorado voted unanimously on Tuesday night for construction of a new municipal broadband network.
Fort Collins’ vote is significant in the fight for a public internet service provider (ISP) option, given the rate at which ISPs have been consolidating power across the country. After Charter’s purchase of Time Warner Cable, 70 percent of all broadband internet is controlled by just two companies, with Comcast still being the largest ISP. Because Fort Collins is the largest city in Colorado behind Denver, Colorado Springs, and Aurora, other cities may soon follow suit.
Despite intense lobbying last fall by ISPs like Comcast/Xfinity, Fort Collins voters approved a ballot question for a new municipal broadband network that would serve as an alternative to existing ISPs, though the network still required the approval of the city council. However, arstechnica reports that the city council voted 7-0 to move ahead with the project, meaning construction will officially take place in 2018.
Even though Fort Collins only has just over 164,000 residents according to 2016 Census data, telecom giants nonetheless spent more than $450,000 on campaigning against the November 2017 ballot question and created a shadowy front group, “Priorities First Fort Collins,” to run ads attacking the idea of a municipal broadband network. However, voters still rejected the ISP’s propaganda, with 57 percent of voters saying yes to the ballot question. The campaign in favor of the question spent just $15,000.
At full capacity, the Fort Collins municipal broadband network will run at speeds of 1 gigabit per second, which is nearly ten times faster than the fastest speed currently offered by Comcast/Xfinity in Fort Collins. This will also put Fort Collins on the same level as Chattanooga, Tennessee (pop. 177,571), which created its own 1 gigabit municipal broadband network — known as the Electric Power Board (EPB) — in 2010.
Like EPB, the Fort Collins municipal broadband network is already committing itself to be in favor of net neutrality, despite the FCC’s recent decision to allow ISPs to censor and slow down content at will. Other cities in Colorado are considering building their own municipal broadband networks, and the FCC’s net neutrality decision is being used as a springboard for discussion about the benefits of cities having their own public internet infrastructure.
A planning document for a January 9 city council study session in Boulder, Colorado about the possibility of a public broadband network for the city also lists net neutrality as a benefit for residents.
“The network will deliver a ‘net-neutral’ competitive unfettered data offering that does not impose caps or usage limits on one use of data over another (i.e., does not limit streaming or charge rates based on type of use),” the document reads. “All application providers (data, voice, video, cloud services) are equally able to provide their services, and consumers’ access to advanced data opens up the marketplace.”
In addition to Fort Collins and Boulder, more than 100 other cities in Colorado alone are exploring the idea of starting a municipal broadband network.
Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.