Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) angered a number of states by pre-empting their laws restricting or prohibiting local governments from creating municipal broadband networks. In all, 19 states currently have such laws, though the details of each state’s laws vary. In Colorado, the law doesn’t outright prevent municipal broadband networks, but it requires voters in those communities to put the issue to a vote.

On Tuesday, November 3, 27 Colorado cities and 17 Colorado counties did exactly that, and in all 44 cases, local voters approved the creation of a municipal network.

A Win-Win Situation for Communities

These 44 communities joined another 11 that had already passed similar measures. In many cases, the votes weren’t exactly nail-biters. No one had to inspect hanging chads in Telluride, where 93 percent of voters supported the measure enabling local broadband.

To a certain extent, the communities that gave themselves the right to build their own networks may be playing chess, rather than hardball, with private Internet Service Providers (ISPs). These communities don’t have to build their own networks. To date, none of the 11 communities that had previously given themselves this right have done so. But now, if they want to, they can get started. Even if they don’t want to, the vote gives them more room to negotiate with private ISPs. They can now say, with some degree of credibility, “If you won’t build us a network, we’ll do it ourselves.”

Meanwhile, Across the Country

Although there are some states that don’t allow voters to overturn their broadband bans, the degree of popularity the Denver broadband measures earned will probably generate interest in other states. If, as in Colorado, there’s enough interest on the local level, state elected officials may either have to reconsider their position on municipal networks or explain their opposition to the communities that elected them.

In Tennessee, EPB and its 10 Gbps service in Chattanooga is the poster child for municipal networks. In October, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), a body whose mission includes providing research to support “state and local government officials in order to improve the overall quality of government in Tennessee,” heard arguments from both sides of the issue. Representatives from municipal utilities and from private ISPs opposed to municipal networks each addressed TACIR, which will take the information it collects and make it available to state and local lawmakers.

There are no guarantees that the information TACIR accumulates will convince Tennessee lawmakers to change the state’s existing law restricting municipal networks, but the very fact that TACIR held the hearing indicates the body felt the question was worth considering. That’s a significant step, given that Tennessee is one of two states currently suing the FCC over pre-emption of state law regarding municipal broadband.

Your Options

Voters across Colorado brought themselves one step closer to high-speed Internet access. No matter what your state’s law says about municipal networks, you can bring yourself one step closer to broadband access by entering your ZIP code below to see and compare the Internet plans available in your area.

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