Letter to the Boulder City Council on municipal broadband

In advance of the meeting tomorrow, I would like to write in support of moving forward on expanding our city-owned broadband resources. Several years of research on municipal and other community-based broadband solutions has made clear to me that communities need to take an active role in ensuring that their internet access is accessible, affordable, and neutral. Although our situation is different from neighbors like Ft. Collins and Longmont, I believe Boulder is in a position to be a national innovator on community broadband.

Having gotten to know the city staff members involved in this effort, I’ve been very impressed with the rigor and thoughtfulness that has gone into the process. Boulder will most likely not be in a position to deliver fiber-to-the-home without a municipal energy utility, but I think starting now with a backbone buildout would create the following opportunities:

+ Faster, more affordable service. Over and over around the country, we see that the large ISPs will not provide fast, affordable service without being somehow compelled to do so. A city-operated backbone could enable new competitors to enter the market and raise the bar for all. This will help strengthen our already vibrant tech business community and benefit consumers.

+ Opportunities for serving the underserved. Troubling, often disguised inequalities plague the country’s connectivity map, and Boulder is no exception. We already have good evidence that lower-income neighborhoods receive far poorer access opportunities than others. Recognizing this, the school district has been developing programs to use civic networks to serve underserved students. Expanding the city’s backbone would allow us to extend such services and ensure that all of our neighbors have affordable connectivity. We can show other communities what it looks like to treat internet access as the essential infrastructure that it is.

+ Leverage for fairness and neutrality. Today, as I write, net neutrality has officially been repealed on the national level. This is a development that could change the meaning of internet access in fundamental ways. It’s now up to local jurisdictions to protect their citizens’s rights of speech and access. Here, again, Boulder can be a leader. A city-owned backbone network could give the city leverage to negotiate arrangements with ISPs that ensure we are a net neutrality zone. This is an issue of concern to many people in town, and while it could be a difficult fight, it would be a fight your constituents would surely support.

In a sense, it is fitting that your decision to proceed with the broadband expansion comes the day after our federal government significantly relinquishes its regulatory powers over internet service. Tomorrow, we have the opportunity to step up and fill the void. Thank you for your consideration and your attention to this important matter.