Muni Broadband Gets Mixed Results in Local Elections

Colorado initiative passes, ISP-backed mayor wins in Seattle

Election Day (Nov. 7) was a mixed bag for internet service providers trying to fend off potential municipal broadband initiatives.

In Seattle, Republican Jenny Durkan, who did not support a city-funded broadband network, was the winner of the mayoral race over Cary Moon, who did. Both candidates were Democrats.

Durkan has said that while she supports boosting internet access, "with a price tag of more than $600 million (and given our crises in housing and homelessness) ... we must look for alternate solutions to increase access to broadband internet access throughout the city," primarily by providing free WiFi.

In Fort Collins, Colo., a state that has had a run of yes votes on muni broadband ballot initiatives, voters overwhelmingly approved (57% to 43%) borrowing $150 million to allow "the City's electric utility or a separate telecommunications utility to provide telecommunication facilities and services, including the transmission of voice, data, graphics and video using broadband Internet facilities, to customers within and outside Fort Collins."

Related: Municipal Broadband Study: Half of Networks Are in the Red

Comcast and CenturyLink each have systems that could be affected by the muni broadband buildouts. Both MSOs both gave money to a PAC supporting Durkan, for example, though so did Amazon and Starbucks. ISPs, including Comcast, are on the record as arguing such muni buildouts can result in overbuilds of existing commercial competitors at government-subsidized rates, which they point out can leave taxpayers holding the bag if the cities can't make it as ongoing concerns after money has been borrowed for the buildouts.