Northwest Colorado works to solve broadband issue | CraigDailyPress.com

Northwest Colorado works to solve broadband issue

Question to improve access could appear on ballot

Patrick Kelly

High-speed telecommunications and broadband Internet have been topics of conversation in Moffat County for nearly two decades.

Local entities have continued the discussion and hope to improve local internet options by placing a question on November’s ballot to override a 2005 legislative ruling that limits rural access to the telecommunication.

The first discussion began in 1997 when county commissioners had to bring in new telecom infrastructure for the Moffat County Public Safety Center, said Audrey Danner, Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership executive director.

Since that project, the need for high-speed Internet connectivity throughout Craig and Moffat County has been realized as a crucial component of economic development.

"It is the basic infrastructure that will support economic development," Danner said.

However, Colorado law prohibits local government from being involved in the delivery of telecom services and big telecommunication companies have little incentive to provide broadband solutions in rural areas like Moffat County.

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"In 2005, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 152, which prevented local government (cities, towns, counties, school districts) from getting involved in telecom services, including providing access to the internet through high-speed broadband service," Craig City Attorney Sherman Romney wrote in an email. "Since that time, outlying areas such as Northwest Colorado have been underserved in terms of access to broadband. The big providers have not been willing to invest in the rural areas but have only invested in the larger rural areas."

To remedy the lack of infrastructure development, other rural areas across Colorado have voted on and passed overrides of Senate Bill 152, allowing them to regain local control.

In 2014, voters in Rio Blanco County passed an override and the county commissioners dedicated $2 million in federal lease revenues and $5 million from its general fund to improve connectivity.

If the Moffat County Board Of Commissioners approves a ballot question at their weekly meeting on Tuesday, voters will have until the November election to decide if the city and county should be able to partner with telecommunications companies and override Senate Bill 152. Craig City Council has already approved a ballot question, according to Romney.

Danner said she wanted to be very clear that the intention is not to make local government the primary provider, but allow for private-public partnerships to help economic development.

"Telecommunications infrastructure and broadband services provided over that infrastructure are essential to how we do business today, and how we will do business next year, and in 10 to 20 years, she said.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, "The term broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access."

Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@craigdailypress.com. Follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.

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