The city of Loveland doesn't have to put up for a vote the establishment of a utility to provide municipal broadband services. But should the city do it anyway?
That was one of the questions Loveland City Council members grappled with in an hours-long broadband discussion Tuesday night.
Ultimately, council members voted against — for now — putting a question about municipal broadband on the ballot by a vote of 5-4. This comes months after a similar decision to not take the question to voters at the end of last year.
Council members voted to approve four different items related to broadband at the meeting:
adopting the Broadband Task Force's recommendations, including pursuing a retail or public-public model for the utility without precluding other models (8-1 vote); spending $2.5 million from the power utility fund for a design, plan and financing options for municipal broadband (8-1 vote); including communications services in the city's electric enterprise (5-4 vote); and establishing a communications advisory board (7-2 vote). The plans could take four to six months to complete.
Councilman Rich Ball called the Fort Collins requirement to seek voter approval for municipal broadband efforts a "defect" in its city charter and said that if Loveland were to put the decision up for a vote, the city would be once again be kicking the can down the road.
Private providers have shown they can't meet the increasing demand for high-speed services for Loveland's residents, he said, and voters have made their desires for the service clear.
"We have the wonderful opportunity to collaborate or we can be the little city that I grew up in that always got beat ... by Fort Collins and Longmont," Ball said.
He also made a declaration: Unless he either died or resigned, he wouldn't be supporting a public vote.
Councilman John Fogle was formerly in support of taking it to the voters. But after Fort Collins' November 2017 election where the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association spent $816,000 and a Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce affiliated group spent another $85,000 to defeat the measure, he changed his mind.
"It's not an even playing field when incumbent industries will spend $900,000 at the drop of the hat to perpetuate ... a monopoly," Fogle said.
Consideration of putting a measure on the ballot wasn't part of the agenda Tuesday night, but Councilman Don Overcash asked to amend the four items council members would be voting on to include a voter-approved decision.
"If citizens want to expand our powers to meet their needs, they have the right to do that," Overcash said. But he said he doesn't feel like the City Council can do so itself without a vote of the residents.
Councilman Steve Olson brought up a worry that some spoke about at during the public comment portion of the meeting: Loveland residents who may not support municipal broadband being "on the hook" for potentially $100 million dollars for a utility they don't want.
A majority of the motions up for consideration on broadband Tuesday night were "dictatorial," Councilman Jeremy Jersvig proclaimed, saying the decision was too large for the nine City Council members to make alone.
But council members who supported moving forward with broadband process said they heard from residents through the vote in 2015 to repeal limitations set by Senate Bill 152 that prohibited local governments from getting involved in telecommunications. They also said they have repeatedly heard from residents before, during and after broadband discussions about the desire to move the project forward, as evidenced during some residents' public comments Tuesday night.
Councilwoman Leah Johnson called the decision one of the most important of her elected leadership and isn't one she takes lightly.
"We certainly have done the due diligence and deliberation" for the process to move forward," Johnson said.
But Councilman Dave Clark, who voted against all four items Tuesday, disagreed, saying he felt the "due diligence" was one sided and council members had a lot to learn before taking on a new utility and new debt.
This article originally ran on coloradoan.com.