Colorado Cities Want To Get Into Broadband. Net Neutrality Might Change That Calculus

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Photo: Cat 5 cable plug - Flickr

In recent years, Colorado voters have proven extremely willing to let their local government become their internet provider, with more than a hundred jurisdictions winning the power to at least explore the idea.

So far, the main impetus has been high-speed access and lower prices. But motivations could change if the Federal Communications Commission votes to ends net neutrality. The move, through the commission’s Proposal to Restore Internet Freedom, would potentially allow private internet companies to use price and speed to favor some content over others.

The FCC’s vote is scheduled for Thursday. Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman has asked FCC Chairman Ajit V. Pai to delay the vote.

What would the end of net neutrality mean for Colorado’s rush to public broadband? CPR News spoke with Ken Fellman, a Denver attorney who represents local governments on telecommunications issues.

On Whether A City Or County Could Preserve A Neutral Internet Experience

“The answer to that question really is: yes and no,” says Fellman. Governments can pledge to uphold the rules of net neutrality on their local network, but that network still connects up with the national internet infrastructure, which is privately-owned. “And to the extent that a lack of net neutrality rules might allow some of the potential problems that folks are talking about, it could still occur on the internet backbone, as opposed to an internet network in a particular city or county.”

On Different Approaches Local Governments Are Taking To Broadband

“I think it is probably going to be a rare situation to see a local government become an actual service provider, similar to what the city of Longmont is doing.” Instead, Fellman points to Routt County and the city of Wray on the Eastern Plains, which are pursuing a hybrid approach: “some of the other models involve public private partnerships ... where a city or a county would say, ‘who in the private sector would like to come in here and use the fiber optic network that we already have in parts of our community and then extend that?’”

On Whether Clients Are Talking About The Possible End Of Net Neutrality

“Frankly, I'm not getting a lot of calls from my local government clients who are worried about it in the context of ‘well, what should we do to protect our network?’ Although I have had some communication from some of the local governments that have opted out of the state restrictions on broadband. One of the things that they're now going to look at is, if these net neutrality rules go away, what will the impacts be on consumers in our town? And that may influence a decision to get active about building a network, or maybe not get involved in it.”