Entities in telecom contract unaware of details

Three years into Moffat County's $1.2 million deal with NC Telecom, some Craig entities listed in the contract are just now learning they're eligible to receive services from the deal.

"I read about it Monday," Donna Watkins, director of Moffat County Libraries, said when asked about the county's $700,000 in pre-paid services contracted with NC Telecom.

The deal in which the Meeker start-up firm delivered one DS3 high-speed Internet connection seven months late to the Moffat County Public Safety Center in November 2001 promised a second connection that "may be used only by county offices, libraries, municipalities, hospitals and public schools within Moffat County," according to the 1999 contract.

The second connection remains undelivered.

It was to be ready "on or before April 1, 2001" some $233,334 of the $700,000 was delivered to NC Telecom shortly after signing the deal.

The balance $466,666 that critics wonder how can be spent under the terms of the deal is held in a county interest-bearing escrow account.

Money leftover after the end of the 10-year contract is payable to NC Telecom. The county's attorney has said Moffat County could continue to tap the funds, however, neither the 1999 deal nor a Nov. 30, 2001 amendment explains this.

Meanwhile, nothing about the county's second DS3 connection has been specified to the city of Craig, City Manager Jim Ferree said.

While aware of the county's $1.2 million contract providing high-speed connections to the Moffat County Public Safety Center, and in general, "kick-starting services into the community," Craig's city manager said $700,000 in available pre-paid services was news this

week to him.

At the Moffat County School District while saying she's aware of the $700,000 pre-paid element of the county's contract staff development and software specialist Marlene Knez said nothing by way of specifics has been discussed.

"Nobody's contacted me about it," Knez said.

Marianna Raftopoulos, Moffat County Commissioner, said entities interested in the service "would have to approach the county."

None have, she said.

Nor is there a plan on how to deliver the services.

Raftopoulos insisted Moffat County's primary focus has been completing the state's $1.37 million Beanpole project, which is designed to connect public entities in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties to the state's multi-use network.

The thinking in 1999, according to Raftopoulos, was that $700,000 in pre-paid services could "leave doors open" to the county's public schools, libraries, hospitals.

Those same entities are eligible to receive money under the Beanpole program. Beanpole was funded five months after Moffat County's $1.2 million contract was signed with NC Telecom in December of 1999.

Today, Raftopoulos says the $700,000 in pre-paid services could be used by local entities once Beanpole funding dries up.

The state project covers the first 24-months of high-speed Internet costs for entities receiving service, according to Jerry Smith, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

The money could also supplement services that aren't eligible for Beanpole funding, Raftopoulos said.

"There are a lot of things out there we don't know about today," she said.

Raftopoulos said the county's increasingly exorbitant telephone bills could also be paid by under the $700,000 pre-paid account.

Raftopoulos notes that bills in recent months at the Moffat County Courthouse have run between $6,500 to $7,500.

But the 1999 NC Telecom contract would appear to rule out telephone charges, while it doesn't mention the Beanpole project.

"Any dial tone or local exchange service charges provided by NCT on the System are not to (be) included in the county's prepaid account and if used by the county will be paid at tariff or regular rates set by NCT," according to the 1999 deal.

Overall, Moffat County still inked a good deal in 1999, Raftopoulos believes.

"We would never have had the fiber lines if not for the $1.2 million deal," she said.

The state and Qwest connected its fiber-optic "multi-use network" (MNT) to Craig in May 2001, according to a report dated March 2002 from the governor's office of innovation and technology.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 to at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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