Colorado rancher champions internet access in key state Senate race


Broadband and net neutrality have emerged as key issues in a closely contested campaign.

Internet access has emerged as a key issue for Kerry Donovan, a Colorado rancher running for re-election in the state Senate.

Having championed the state's expansion of broadband internet into rural communities, and fought to keep the internet free and open, Donovan has brought the pro-consumer issues to the forefront of her closely watched local campaign.

It turns out Donovan's deep-pocketed Republican opponents are not happy.

A recent mailer sent out to voters in Donovan's district attack her for supporting net neutrality, the Colorado Times Recorder reports.

Paid for by American for Prosperity, the right-wing political behemoth funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, the mailer arrives as Donovan faces GOP challenger, Olen Lund.

Contrary to the Koch-sponsored attack campaign, the consumer push to keep the internet free and open remains widely popular among most Americans.

In the previous legislative session, Donovan sponsored a bill that would have prevented companies that offer Internet services from charging extra fees based on online speeds, or allowed the companies to regulate traffic.

The bill passed the Democratic House but was killed in the GOP-controlled Senate. Next year, Donovan's bill might stand a better chance of becoming law if Democrats control the Senate, too.

This election season Donovan's part of the "Fab 5," a group of five Democratic women featured in five toss-up races that will likely determine control of the Senate next year.

Along with Donovan, they include Tammy Story, Jessie Danielson, Brittany Pettersen, and Faith Winter.

Seventeen out of the 35 seats in the Colorado Senate are contested in this election cycle. Republicans currently maintain just a one-seat advantage in the Senate. Donovan's an incumbent who won her election by just 700 votes in 2014, so lots of eyes are on her race.

Colorado Democrats have reason to be optimistic about voting trends this year. During the primary season, 55,000 more Democrats voted than Republicans. And among the unaffiliated voters who were able to participate, 60,000 more opted to vote in the Democratic primary.

More recently, polls moving Democrats' direction in the Colorado governor's race, as well as in a high-profile Congressional seat that Democrats have been trying to flip for years.

Trump's approval rating among independent voters in Colorado currently stands at a dreary 32 percent.

Along with fighting for net neutrality, another key initiative that Donovan has championed is expanding the state's high-speed internet infrastructure.

For years, broadband has been a pressing communications and economic issue in the state, with more isolated Colorado communities complaining they're not able to count on economic and education growth because of the lack of high-speed internet services.

Reliable high-speed internet remains crucial for farmers, schools and health care. It also means small businesses can thrive and entrepreneurs don't have to leave rural areas in order to follow their dreams.

"Nationally, 40 percent of U.S. residents in rural areas don't have access to broadband, compared to just 4 percent in urban areas," the Associated Press reports.

Bringing high-speed internet to rural areas is also a jobs creator in regions where local miners can no longer find work.

Donovan faced GOP hurdles for three years as she tried to secure broadband funding for rural districts — her legislation kept getting killed in the Republican-controlled Senate.

First, she was able to get around that hurdle by securing funding for internet expansion via the state's annual budget, for the Rural Broadband Support Fund.

Then in 2018, thanks in part to Donovan, two key broadband initiatives were signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper to strengthen the state's Internet infrastructure.

Today, the issue of internet access might help determine which party runs the Colorado Senate next year.