Broad(band) Disappointment

Promises made

In the speeches made by legislative leadership in the first days of the session, as well as the State of the State Address given by Gov. John Hickenlooper, there was unbridled support and enthusiasm for expansion of broadband service in rural areas of the state. Yet, given all the hoopla and all the bipartisan support for doing something, the General Assembly will adjourn in 2016 without passage of meaningful legislation to address the significant shortfalls in broadband availability and speeds throughout Colorado.

fiber

There is no more direct evidence of the reality of broadband gaps in rural Colorado than the overwhelming approval by voters 45 municipalities and 21 counties that voted to exempt themselves from statutory prohibitions on provision of broadband services. Each vote is a referendum on the lack of availability and quality of broadband service. Citizens have expressed, in no uncertain terms, that the private sector is unwilling or unable to provide broadband infrastructure and service that allows schools and businesses to compete in the global economy. All of these communities – and all of the people within them – have a link to Colorado’s economy, educational system, and health care system.  Each one of them has the right to be as connected to the world as their counterparts in the larger cities along the Front Range.

The only answer from the General Assembly to this crisis is SB 16-067. The legislation does nothing to tackle substandard broadband service, but it does suggest that the private sector companies failing to provide better service might consider it if rural counties and municipalities give them a tax break on their business personal property. This – and apparently nothing else – is the barrier to private sector deployment of infrastructure and service.

We don’t agree.

Besides violating constitutional requirements for uniform taxation on all real and personal property, the bill does not do anything to improve service. The bill does not even require the company that would get the tax break to put new or improved infrastructure in the jurisdiction(s) asked to give the tax break. The legislation represents another missed opportunity.

Beyond the 2016 legislative session

Local governments working directly with interested citizens and the private sector will be the most promising avenue for providing fast, available broadband to all corners of Colorado. The General Assembly, by comparison, continues to be a vessel of disappointing rhetoric.

Municipalities and counties will continue to tackle this issue collaboratively and on the local level, along with a strong partner in the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). DOLA has been a critical element in local governments’ development of plans to build broadband infrastructure. Local governments largely plan to make the investment in infrastructure the private sector does not want to make, and then open it to private sector to offer high speed broadband to schools, businesses, and private citizens. The public/private partnerships (P3’s) are often the best model for public investment that benefits the private sector and those that subscribe to their services.

But meaningful assistance via the General Assembly?  Maybe in 2017.

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