Internet contract approved

Commissioners say deal ensures prepaid service won't go to waste

Moffat County commissioners breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday.

Commissioners signed off on a contract with NC Telecom at their regular meeting that they say ensures that the county's $229,034 in prepaid Internet service won't go to waste.

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

When the Meeker-based telecom company filed for bankruptcy, commissioners were worried about the future of the more than $200,000 remaining in Internet service that the county already had paid for. The county also has more than $400,000 in an escrow account with the company, which commissioners also were worried about.

Commissioners hired an out--side attorney to represent them at bankruptcy hearings and instructed Moffat County information services coordinator Mason Siedschlaw to shop around for another Internet service provider.

At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners signed off on a deal that says the county will continue to receive Internet service from NC Telecom until the $229,034 in prepaid services is used up.

"I feel like this is a better deal than what we could have had," Commissioner Tom Gray said.

Siedschlaw said that although it is hard to estimate when the county's prepaid services will run out, it probably won't be for a long time. If current rates, which Siedschlaw said are about $25,000 a year, are any indication, the prepaid services could last almost a decade.

"This looks like a good deal to me," Commissioner Darryl Steele said.

Commissioners and NC Tele--com officials already have signed off on the deal. But before the deal can become official, the bankruptcy court must sign off, as well.

NC Telecom general manager Rick Hemming has said the company could be out of bankruptcy near the end of May.

Commissioners said that in the end, although the NC Telecom bankruptcy was a cause for concern from the outset, it wouldn't have much of an effect on the county.

The most notable effects are that the federal beanpole grant that brought Internet to Northwest Colorado in the 1990s will expire this month instead of in June because of the bankruptcy, Hemming said.

The bankruptcy also means that the county can spend the money from the escrow account on Internet services if commissioners choose to, Hemming said.

In 1999, Moffat County paid the Meeker company $733,000 in advance for Internet service through 2011. The money from Moffat County helped the company open its doors.

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 company was a risky move.

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