Comcast-backed group spent $1M to fight Colorado town’s municipal broadband effort

Comcast, the incumbent cable operator in Fort Collins, Colorado, was one of several service providers that provided funding to Priorities First Fort Collins that held a $1 million campaign to unsuccessfully prevent the community from building a municipal broadband network.

Financial disclosures for a November ballot initiative, according to a Fortune report, show a group that was given financial backing from incumbent ISPs spent a little more than $900,000 to end Fort Collins’ broadband efforts.

Interestingly, the ISPs' deep pockets were not enough to overcome a citizen group’s $15,000 effort to support the bond measure, which passed with 57% of the vote on Nov. 7. The group secured $150 million in financing for a city-run broadband provider.

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Priorities First Fort Collins led the opposition to the municipal-run network plans. According to the filings, the group got most of its funding from the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association. Comcast is a member of the group.

A large portion of Priorities First Fort Collins’ spending was dedicated to advertising, which included a commercial that said public broadband spending would dilute spending on maintaining roads and public safety.

However, the leaders of the new municipal network would pay back the bond with subscriber fees and not from the city budget. Wade Troxell, Fort Collins’ Mayor, called the group’s advertising spots as “misinformation.”

While there has been a fair share of failed municipal broadband projects, in other communities like Chattanooga, Tenn., the emergence of municipal providers like EPB have driven Comcast to upgrade its network to deliver 1 and 2 Gbps services over its HFC network, for example.

The battle between incumbent providers and communities that want to build their own networks, particularly in areas where incumbents have failed to provide adequate broadband service, has continued to rise in recent years. Besides launching public campaigns, ISPs have worked to prevent government competition by seeking state-level legislation that takes away cities’ options to build their own networks.

Colorado has been an interesting stage for the municipal broadband debate. In 2015, residents in 26 cities and towns and 17 counties, including Fort Collins, voted to overturn a law that limited local communities from building a broadband business even in areas where incumbent telcos and cable operators have refused to upgrade facilities.