Both Denver (CO) and Chicago (IL) approved referendums supporting municipal broadband last week, reported StateScoop. On Tuesday, 83.5 percent of Denverites voted to opt-out of a state law that prohibits municipalities from investing in or building a broadband network. Ninety percent of Chicagoans voted in favor of the city pursuing broadband internet connectivity for all residents. Both measures were non-binding, according to StateScoop.
The referendums’ approvals show that a growing number of cities are taking municipally-owned internet infrastructure “seriously” in a way they haven’t in the past, said Chris Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Mitchell noted that although he doesn’t expect any immediate action based on the voter outcomes, it’s a “step forward” that most other cities have yet to take.
He added that citizens don’t believe that broadband is a problem that private companies can solve exclusively. Now, local government officials may take a more serious look at long-term broadband expansion strategies.
Some officials have already taken action. In June, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a $50 million program to connect 100,000 students with the internet by the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year. In addition, both Chicago and Denver received WiFi through Comcast’s “Lift Zone,” supplying access to community centers to connect school-aged children.
“I think this election is the first of many in which we’ll see these kinds of referendums, even non-binding ones, in which people are just trying to force elected officials to do something,” Mitchell said.
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