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Colorado Jurisdictions to Probe Potential of Municipal Broadband

Two east Boulder County communities joined 24 other Colorado municipalities when they approved ballot measures allowing them to explore offering their own broadband internet service.

(TNS) -- Joining 24 other Colorado municipalities that quietly approved ballot measures on Nov. 8, allowing them to explore offering their own broadband internet service, the east Boulder County communities of Lafayette and Superior are now exploring next steps in developing functioning systems.

More than two years after Boulder voters granted the city authority to explore how it might make use of such a capability, the two east Boulder County communities joined 24 other Colorado municipalities when they approved ballot measures allowing them to explore the idea of offering their own broadband internet service — bringing the total opting to do so statewide to 95.

Though officials in both Superior and Lafayette caution residents that a functioning city-provided broadband network is not imminent, Superior will begin looking into the alternative internet option as soon as early 2017.

"We want to position the town to be able to offer the best broadband options to our residents for broadband options and choices," Mayor Clint Folsom said on Friday.

According to Folsom, studies into the best broadband option for the 4-square-mile town of roughly 4,000 will begin early next year.

"The last mile connecting the main line is always the most expensive part," he added. "Who is to say that some wireless (broadband) option is not the best option for us. We were pleased with the results; I think (the vote) speaks to how people understand the issue."

A fiber optic network — strands of fiberglass bundled together by sheath either above or below ground — is extremely scalable, according to the Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit that advocates for municipal broadband. He adds that the material is also capable of supporting internet use long into the future.

"The importance of this vote," attorney Ken Fellman said on Thursday, "is that now any of these cities — when they are doing their studies to try to figure out what their goals are, they can do it with the knowledge that once they make the best decision they can do so without the constraints of the statute."

Interest in ridding themselves of the statute known as SB 152 — passed in 2005 to restrict local governments from using taxpayer dollars to build expensive broadband networks — first garnered attention earlier this summer when Superior and Lafayette officials began mulling a ballot question to address the issue.

"Superior residents have only two main choices for high-speed internet," resident and recently elected Superior trustee Mark Lacis said in August as officials mulled the ballot question.

"Not only is our current internet provider expensive, but we've faced numerous issues with intermittent coverage. For my wife, who works from home and depends on internet access, it causes issues for our home."

As Superior and Lafayette probe the future of community broadband, they will do so with several examples to work from.

After cities such as Longmont, which opted for municipal broadband freedom in 2011, successfully began offering gigabit internet to residents, other cities put the measure on the ballot.

"The main thing is that (municipalities) now have the freedom to do with it what they want," Mitchell said. "There are models all over Colorado — certainly cities like Longmont and Centennial. The most important thing is to basically look at different options that are available, but it takes time to do that.

©2016 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC