City adds telecom question to ballot

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AT&T exec sees move as competitive threat

Centennial voters are going to be busy this November. Not only are they going to elect a mayor and four new councilmembers, but they will also be deciding on whether or not the city can leverage an existing fiber optic network to provide Internet and cable services.

In a unanimous vote Aug. 19, the city council approved ballot language asking residents to consider authorizing it to use the readily available capacity of more than 40 miles of cable to provided enhanced telecom services.

“Senate Bill 05-152 expressly allows and authorizes local governments to go to the voters to restore the powers that were taken from us by the state legislature in their rejection of our ability to use public facilities to provide services — Internet, telecom and cable,” said City Attorney Bob Widner. “And much can be done to debate how those services might be provided, but the first step is quest is whether we can provide those services and eliminate the hurdle that is Senate Bill 152.”

Wider said placing the question on the ballot takes that first step.

“It is not intended to set a business plan or dictate how services might be provided or how to enhance quality or increase competition among services,” he said.

Kenneth Grandville, who owns a Centennial-based technology company, supports the move, saying that competitive pricing is the key to embracing the next big thing.

And that next big thing, according to Grandville, is Internet-based television.

“Interactive television is here and it will place big demands on our infrastructure,” he said. “Broadcast and Internet television will create an explosion in demand that, to some, will be the equivalent of trying to squeeze an elephant through a soda straw.”

But not everyone sees the city’s proposal in the same light.

AT&T Colorado President Bill Soards cautioned city council during a public hearing that, historically, municipal fiber optic networks have been “less than successful.”

Soards pointed out that his company has invested millions of dollars in the Denver area, including Centennial, and sees the city’s plan as a competitive threat, based on the ballot language.

“It seems to me that you don’t want to get into the business directly, but it’s the indirect that concerns me. And the thought that a company could come forward and lease your network, or be given your network for a dollar such as Google has done in Provo, Utah, recently, or really low market prices, is a competitive threat, not just to me, but to the other providers in the room.”

While Soards was respectful of the city’s position, he was not warming up to the idea of losing market share.

“I find it interesting that, as part of the rationale, this somehow is going to increase competition or be good for business,” Soards said. “If the council decides to move forward with this indirectly then I would certainly recommend that there be some language in there that includes commercially reasonable rates, terms and conditions. The business models of dozens of telecommunications companies in Centennial are at risk of being undercut by free or significantly subsidized networks.”

District 1 Councilmember Vorry Moon said the thought of the city being asked to change its wording smelled of ways restricting its options.

“It seems to me we are going, ‘Fire, ready, aim,’” said Moon. “We’re all talking about what we’re going to do after the election,” said Moon. “And this election is simply to get the city out from under SB 152, and SB 152 was brought to you by the same industry that’s here trying to tell you, now, how to change your ballot initiative. If we’re trying to get out from under 152, why would we put ourselves under other restrictions?”

BALLOT LANGUAGE

Shall the City of Centennial, without increasing taxes, and to restore local authority that was denied to all local governments by the state legislature, and foster a more competitive marketplace, be authorized to indirectly provide high-speed Internet (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, non-profit entities and other users of such services, through competitive and non-exclusive partnerships with private businesses, as expressly permitted by Article 29, Turtle 27, of the Colorado Revised Statutes?

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