Officials worried about Internet

Struggling NC Telecom has commissioners shopping for new service

Moffat County officials, seeking to protect more than $500,000 the county paid in advance to struggling NC Telecom for Internet services, hired a bankruptcy attorney Tuesday.

And in another sign that officials are growing increasingly worried about NC Telecom's ability to provide services, the three-member board of county commissioners said it would shop for another provider.

Commissioners on Tuesday un----animously voted to hire Denver bankruptcy attorney Gregory Williams to represent the county in NC Telecom's bankruptcy proceedings.

"We just need to look at all of our options," Commissioner Tom Gray said.

Risky business?

NC Telecom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Oct. 14. Chapter 11 bankruptcy frees a company from the threat of creditors' lawsuits while it reorganizes its finances.

The company hit hard economic times shortly after it opened in 1999. Federal laws limited the services the company could offer. NC Telecom also was unable to tap large markets along Interstate 70.

Company officials have said services to clients would not be disrupted while it restructures.

A lingering question has been what would happen to the money Moffat County paid in advance for services. It's a question commissioners so far have been unable to answer.

In 1999, Moffat County paid the Meeker company $733,000 in advance for Internet service through 2011. The county has $507,000 remaining in prepaid services with the company.

At the time, commissioners entered into an agreement with NC Telecom despite warnings from some residents and community leaders that doing business with a start-up was a risky move.

Contentious process

The county will pay Denver attorney Williams a $5,000 retainer for services.

Williams, with 30 years experience as a lawyer, specializes in bankruptcy cases.

"We just want to stay on top of it," Commissioner Saed Tayyara said.

Having an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy will help the county during what could be a contentious process, County Attorney Kathleen Taylor said.

Protecting the $507,000 the county paid NC Telecom is a priority, Commissioner Darryl Steele said.

"We will work very hard to minimize the liability of Moffat County," Steele said.

Commissioners are in a position of resolving a problem they didn't create.

None of the current commissioners were in office when Moffat County forged an ag----reement with NC Telecom for Internet services.

All three commissioners say they had reservations about the contract before they took office.

Unfazed firm

Rick Heming, general manager for NC Telecom, on Tuesday said he wasn't concerned about the county's decision to hire an attorney. Nor was he fazed by the county's move to price other Internet service providers, he said.

Moffat County isn't the only county concerned about prepaid services with NC Telecom. Rio Blanco County paid the Internet provider $1.18 million in advance for services.

Rio Blanco County officials say they also are considering hiring an attorney for legal advice as NC Telecom sorts out its finances.

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