JIm Clark: Vote ‘yes’ to broadband
In the 1930s, almost 90 percent of urban dwellers had electricity, but only 10 percent of rural residents did. Privately owned utility companies argued it wasn’t cost-effective to build the infrastructure of poles and lines to electrify the rest of the country. So, in 1935, the Roosevelt Administration created the Rural Electric Administration to bring power to farmers across the nation.
Many groups opposed the federal government’s involvement in distributing electricity, especially utility companies. They argued it was unfair for government to compete with private industry. Yet, without that involvement, vast areas of the country would have remained without power for decades, putting rural areas at a distinct economic, educational and social disadvantage.
Thankfully, rural electric cooperatives such as our Yampa Valley Electric Association, which brings power to our area, arose to serve customers across a sparsely populated area.
Now, some 80 years later, we face a different but similar challenge. Internet access and reliable broadband service has become essential to modern life. But service in rural areas can be limited in bandwidth, reliability and even unavailable to some residents. Private providers have less or no economic incentive to increase capacity, availability and redundancy.
Ten years ago, Senate Bill 152 was passed, taking away the rights of governments to engage in providing service, including their ability to partner with private entities. The argument at the time was that this would encourage private providers to invest in expanding service, in particular, to rural areas. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out so well. Service interruptions have occurred with detrimental consequences to business and residents.
As an example, the Superior Livestock Auction is conducted each year at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. This live, online auction transacts about $1 million in cattle sales per hour, and, as you may have guessed, we lost Internet service during the auction. When broadband service goes down or is limited, commerce can shut down for hours at a time. Moreover, many of our residents are location neutral and work from home. This is not only a matter of convenience; it’s a major economic issue.
Governmental entities can opt out of SB 152 through a vote. A number of cities and counties have already done so, including Rio Blanco county. Depending on where you live, you will see three or more ballot questions allowing cities, the county, the Steamboat Springs School District and Colorado Mountain College to opt out of Senate Bill 152.
This does not mean the governments will be selling Internet service directly to consumers. None of the entities putting this on the ballot want to be in competition with private companies. What it does do is open the door for public/private partnerships to begin the process of building infrastructure to increase bandwidth and redundancy in the future.
A ‘yes’ vote on an override of SB 152 does not mean our service will improve immediately, but in the 10 years this legislation has been in place, the improvement in service and reliability simply hasn’t happened. Similar to the Roosevelt Administration’s action with regard to rural power, sometimes the business case for a utility in rural areas needs some help. That’s why we have rural electric cooperatives, such as YVEA.
Some areas of Routt County have little to no Internet service. Today’s world — for workers, residents and students — requires Internet access. Vote Yes2Broadband, and let’s open the door for better service. We deserve it.
Jim Clark is CEO of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.
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