Broadband top priority for Hickenlooper; Moffat County completes broadband report | CraigDailyPress.com

Broadband top priority for Hickenlooper; Moffat County completes broadband report

Lauren Blair







— Efforts to bring broadband connectivity to Moffat County have culminated in an important first step with the completion of a scoping report Friday.

Based on a survey of 216 Moffat County residents and businesses, it revealed that 72 percent of residential respondents had download speeds below the threshold set by the Federal Communications Commission to define broadband, or high-speed internet.

It also revealed that 87 percent of business owners surveyed view broadband as a utility, marking a paradigm shift from high-speed internet as luxury to high-speed internet as a basic necessity such as electricity.

"The broadband thing really underpins a lot of the economic development ideas that we have," said Terry Carwile, who took up the fight to get broadband during his tenure as mayor of Craig. "There are pockets of internet performance that are adequate for personal and business use, but when you look at the broader picture of how you're doing to put the community on better economic footing overall, we have a lot of work to do."

Getting broadband into rural communities has become such an important issue, in fact, that Governor John Hickenlooper named it as one of his top two priorities alongside transportation in his State of the State speech Thursday.

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"Fiber optic cables are today's power lines for farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses," Hickenlooper said. "Today, I'm announcing the creation of a broadband office to help us get from 70 to 85 percent coverage by the time we leave office and 100 percent by 2020."

The initial report was made possible by a grant from the Department of Local Affairs of $25,000, matched by $25,000 from local institutions. With the report complete, Moffat County is poised to take advantage of grant funding to begin working on the next steps, such as evaluating current infrastructure and strategizing an approach.

Rio Blanco County is nearing completion of broadband installation in both Meeker and Rangely, paving the way for a potential partnership between Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

"That's where we start seeing economies of scale," said Audrey Danner, broadband committee coordinator along with Carwile. "That's why it's not only important to share in our neighbor's success… it's important to work with them."

As the process moves forward, Danner and Carwile are looking to other local agencies, such as Craig Moffat Economic Development Partnership and city and county government, to take the helm.

“Broadband came out on top during our prioritization project,” said CMEDP executive director Michelle Balleck during a board meeting Wednesday. “If broadband is a priority for our community, then let’s run with it.”

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.