‘Opt-out’ votes look like slam dunks in Silverthorne, Dillon
Ballots went out to Summit County residents last week ahead of the Nov. 7 election, and on them are two provisions that would allow residents of Silverthorne and Dillon to opt-out of a state law preventing their towns from investing in local broadband services.
The issue stems from a statute passed by the state Legislature in 2005 forbidding municipal and county governments from offering local broadband services, either directly or through partnerships with outside companies.
The state measure, Senate Bill 152, was met with some backlash, and in a compromise, the Legislature eased up the hardline restriction by rewriting the law to give municipalities a chance to “opt out,” but only if local voters support the plan.
Right now, Silverthorne officials say there are no efforts underway to start any town-managed broadband services here, either directly or in a partnership with an outside provider, which is the more likely of the two scenarios given Silverthorne’s small population.
Still, town council is putting the question to voters to keep its options open in case the opportunity should arise.
Should Silverthorne and Dillon pass their respective opt-out provisions — which they’re all but guaranteed to do based on what’s happened so far across Colorado — they will join Summit County and Breckenridge, both of which have already passed opt-out measures, in addition to 69 other Colorado communities and 29 counties that also voted in support of opting out.
According to Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League, which has been tracking the issue since it first came up, putting an opt-out provision on the ballot is about all a Colorado city, town or county needs to do to free up its internet options.
“I don’t want to say it has (a) 100 percent success rate,” Bommer said of the opt-out provision. “But these votes don’t fail, and (with 16 more on the ballot statewide) we fully expect to have 85 communities after the next election.”
In fact, the only time voters haven’t supported an opt-out provision came in 2009, when a similar proposal was defeated in Longmont.
Bommer said that vote was “contested heavily” by incumbent broadband providers, and even though it failed the first time around, Longmont voters revisited the issue and passed it in a subsequent ballot.
Since that initial failure, the opt-out provision has been passed 69 times in a row, Bommer said, adding that the high rate of success suggests “people have higher expectations for their broadband services than what they’re currently getting.”
Furthermore, he noted almost every vote has come with a 70, 80 or even 90 percent approval rate or higher, which is almost unheard of when it comes to a vote.
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