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Rocky Mountain High (Speed): Muni Broadband on Colorado Ballots

A federal court might have blocked the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to promote municipal broadband by pre-empting state laws restricting it in North Carolina and Tennessee, but more than two dozen Colorado communities — including Aspen — will look to the ballot box on Tuesday (Nov. 8) to do their own mini-pre-empting.

Colorado state law holds that, “in the interests of uniformity of service,” no local government can provide cable or telecom services, either directly or via a joint venture or a leaseback arrangement, unless no commercial operator provides service anywhere in the municipality or does not agree to do so when asked — or if the voters say the government can, via a ballot initiative aimed at opting out of that Colorado law, known as SB 152.

If these latest initiatives pass, it will make nearly 100 Colorado communities that have “restored” their ability to provide Internet access, according to the Institute for Self-Reliance, a D.C.-based group pushing muni broadband.

“The question continues to be who should decide these matters,” Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the institute, said. “We believe the decision should be made at the local level, where people have to live with the consequences of either action or inaction. The big cable and telephone companies prefer to outlaw it from the state capitals, where their lobbyists are more influential and local voices are easier to drown out.”

Those big companies argue that government winds up unfairly subsidizing competition to existing service and can leave taxpayers holding the bag if muni broadband efforts fail.

As to the court keeping the FCC from lending a hand, Mitchell said, “The 6th Circuit decision wasn’t so much a shot against municipal networks as it was the court saying that even though the FCC’s record demonstrating that municipal networks improve Internet access, the battle is still in the states over where and how to allow it.”

Cable Consolidation Unites ACC With CTAM

The Association of Cable Communicators — known as the Cable Television Public Affairs Association for its first 22 years of existence, from 1985 to 2006 — is folding into CTAM (the marketing-focused professional association) later this year.

ACC will go away, but CTAM will take on the work of supporting public-relations staffers at cable providers and programmers. And programs like the Beacon Awards for public-affairs campaigns will continue: 45 awards were handed out this past June, including the Golden Beacon saluting MTV Networks’ Transgender Awareness Week.

Consolidation, especially among big cable providers, had eroded the ACC membership base over time, as had factors including the spread of statewide franchises that led to fewer public-affairs staffers at operators around the country, ACC activists (including fulltime executive director Steve Jones) noted.

From a peak of perhaps 700 individual members, Jones said, the organization now has around half that number.

It’s interesting to note, though, that CTPAA could have launched initially as an arm of CTAM, as former president Andy Holdgate noted in a history of the group’s first two decades.

CTAM has always closely with CTPAA and ACC, so it was perhaps an inevitable outcome, though it took more than three decades to get there. CTAM CEO Vicki Lins told The Wire last week she saw the new union as “two halves coming together to form a greater whole.”

Both organizations’ boards voted unanimously to combine, though it will take a while to sort out the final details.

— Kent Gibbons