Boulder, Colorado Lawmakers Explore Plans for Taxpayer-Funded Internet

Published January 12, 2016

Lawmakers in Boulder, Colorado are exploring creating a government-owned Internet service provider in the near future, to provide Internet connectivity services to the community.

City officials are currently conducting a feasibility study, researching necessary technical specifications required to create a new government-owned network (GON), and asking citizens to give their input about the potential project.

Browsing History of Failure

Clark Packard, policy and government affairs manager for the National Taxpayers Union, says lawmakers should examine the history of other cities’ attempts at creating GONs. 

“Recent history is replete with examples of failed government-owned networks,” Packard said. “A recent case study from the New York Law School looked at Chattanooga’s muni broadband program. It has been a disaster. It cost $390 million to deploy the network; $280 million in debt financing and loans; $111 million in federal loans. All of this has to be paid back by consumers.”

The answer to lagging private-sector service is fewer regulations, not more government interference, Packard says.

“Private companies have proven they can meet demand,” Packard said. “GONs put the government in direct competition with the private sector. … To the extent that there are gaps in coverage, this is the result of egregious government policies that artificially raise costs.  

‘Teeming with Connectivity’

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research organization based in Colorado, says there’s no need for government to enter the Internet business in Boulder.

“Every bagel shop, hippy tea house, public building, and marijuana dispensary in Boulder has Wi-Fi,” Caldara said. “The fact that Boulder is teeming with connectivity is proof that the government need not provide it.”

Destined for Obsolescence

Caldara says GONs have little incentive to innovate and provide new technological services to consumers.

“As technological changes come faster and faster, private business will have their money on the line, not taxpayers, when systems become obsolete,” Caldara said. “When some future advancement makes Boulder’s proposed system look like 1980s dial-up—and it will happen—our kids shouldn’t be left paying off the old technology.”

Leo Pusateri ([email protected]) writes from Saint Cloud, Minnesota.

Internet Info:

Kathryn A. Tongue, “Municipal Entry into the Broadband Cable Market: Recognizing the Inequities Inherent in Allowing Publicly Owned Cable Systems to Compete Directly Against Private Providers,” Northwestern University Law Review: