Boulder lost out on Google Fiber because of Colorado’s anti-municipal broadband laws

The city of Boulder, Colorado has 100 miles of fiber optic cable it would like to see become part of a gigabit broadband network. Unfortunately, a Colorado law that requires communities to hold a public referendum before providing any municipal broadband or cable network means that it will have to ask city voters to approve a ballot measure in November allowing the city to find partners to use that fiber and help Boulder get a gig.

According to an article about the effort in The Daily Camera, a Boulder newspaper, that law was also a primary reason Google bypassed Boulder when it was looking for more cities to expand its gigabit fiber-to-the-home network. The story quoted Carl Castillo, Boulder policy adviser, as saying that city officials believed a major reason Boulder was “passed over for the Google Fiber Initiative is the restrictions in state law.”

I’ve had others tell me the same thing about Colorado, and I can think of other examples of state-wide anti-muni network laws causing problems for new gigabit networks in many of the 18 other states that have related laws. That’s why FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s blog post earlier this week suggesting he might invoke the federal government’s preemption power to prevent states from legislating against competitive broadband networks was so noteworthy.

As gigabit networks are announced (although few are actually in operation yet) around the country, it’s becoming clear that the public and politicians believe that faster broadband is worth pushing for in their communities. So while Boulder now has to prep a referendum, it’s at least tackling one of the obstacles standing between it and possible public-private partnership to get a gigabit.

And if Wheeler stands firm, maybe it won’t have to do it alone. And other cities may not have to jump through these hoops at all.