Telecommunications is an infrastructure every bit as important as highways and waterlines, Audrey Danner said.
Danner is the chairwoman of the Club 20 telecommunication subcommittee. She presented the results of two year's of work to city and county officials Tuesday in an effort to convey the importance of taking telecommunication capabilities into consideration when making decisions.
Club 20 is a lobbying group representing 20 Western Slope counties, including Moffat. It partnered with similar groups -- Action 22 and Progressive 15 -- to develop 10 telecommunication principals.
The principals are based on the concept that availability and accessibility of telecommunications services is essential to economic development and the quality of life of Coloradans.
The principals stress the importance of affordable, quality access to telecommunications and state that government's role should be to facilitate broadband networks in partnership with the private sector.
That doesn't mean they advocate for government investment or excessive involvement, Danner said.
"We don't want government in competition with businesses, but partnerships are necessary," she said.
Moffat County joined Routt and Rio Blanco counties in 1997 to get telecommunication infrastructure -- fiber -- to Northwest Colorado. The counties were awarded a $3.75 million grant from the state, which was used fund the construction of the infrastructure -- something NC Telecom was contracted to do. Moffat and Rio Blanco counties kicked in additional funds for pre-paid services, which was a necessary component of getting a service provider in Northwest Colorado, Danner said.
That puts Northwest Colo--rado in a strong position, she said, but now there needs to be a focus on larger capacity and residential service.
"For some, dial up isn't enough," Danner said. "We're beginning to see that broadband is a necessity, not an amenity."
Steamboat Springs is surveying the county's estimated 700 "location-neutral businesses." Location neutral businesses don't need to be in a specific area to operate such as a home-based business.
The survey indicated that their primary need was broadband.
Tom Gilchrist, chairman of the Yampa Valley Economic Development Council, said some cities have adopted the policy of burying an empty pipe every time they buried a water or sewer line.
"The philosophy is 'bury it empty, someday you'll fill it,'" Gilchrist said.
It's a concept he'd like the Craig City Council to consider.
Councilor Bill Johnston said officials needed to decide whether to consider telecommunications a priority, and if so, to develop a plan for addressing the needs.
"If we believe telecommunications is part of the infrastructure, then we should plot a course," he said.
Gilchrist said that could be a good joint project between Moffat and Routt counties.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.