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What Are Fort Collins Residents Voting On This Fall?

September 14, 2017

Voters in Fort Collins, Colo. will decide this November whether to move forward on consideration of a municipal broadband network. Heartland Institute writer Brandi Wielgopolski advises residents to vote no on the question, even if the election results don’t necessarily mean the city will move forward with a municipal broadband project. 

The network would cost up to $150 billion, Wielgopolski reports, and would be “funded by new public debt.” Light and Power Utility, the city’s electricity provider, would run the system, which would reach approximately 62,000 residences. (If Fort Collins spends the full $150 million to build the network, the cost would be about $2,400 per residence—if every residence subscribes, a prospect that is virtually impossible.)

According to Wielgopolski, the American Consumer Institute opposes government-owned broadband networks. President Steve Pociask has said, “The reality is, when we look at all of these ventures, we see they don’t anticipate the full costs, and once the municipally owned networks enter the market they lose a lot of money.” Pociask also noted, “Municipal broadband networks survive by shifting their financial losses to consumers and taxpayers. This is often done by raising taxes, issuing bonds, and pushing surcharges on electric and water consumers and other municipal services.”

Wielgopolski also reports a municipal network would reduce private broadband investment in the city. Fort Collins resident Sarah Hunt has argued, “The current internet service providers will be at a competitive disadvantage because they do not have taxpayer funds to back them … They will be discouraged and inhibited from innovation, because they will not be able to compete against a subsidized city of Fort Collins. Nobody benefits from decreased competition and innovation.”

The City of Fort Collins website says the ballot initiative “does not mean that the City will provide municipal retail broadband, or that a third-party internet service provider would offer the service.”

While that might be true, the ballot question specifically asks whether voters would “support” a city-owned system and would “support” taking on $150 million in debt to finance the network.