Our view: Vote ‘yes’ on broadband referendums
In the 21st century, the Internet is vital to how we do business, how we learn and how we communicate with each other and the rest of the world. It’s become a necessity, as critical to our daily life as electricity, and recent outages in the area proved just how underserved Routt County is when it comes to reliable, redundant and affordable broadband service. Portions of Routt County still lack basic service, and even residents and business owners living and working in well-served areas such as Steamboat Springs find themselves faced with a lack of redundancy and higher Internet bills than Front Range consumers.
This November, local voters will have an opportunity to begin changing that by passing a ballot measure that will restore the right of local governments to provide telecommunications services, and the Steamboat Pilot & Today urges Routt County citizens to vote “yes” on these referendums. We believe giving local communities the opportunity to solve their own broadband issues through the creation of new public-private partnerships is a step in the right direction.
The referendums that will appear on the ballot ask voters to give their local governments the ability to exempt themselves from Senate Bill 05-152 — a piece of legislation, passed in 2005, that took away the right of cities, schools and counties to engage in the provision of telecommunications services like broadband, directly or indirectly. The large telecom companies lobbied hard for the bill’s passage and convinced legislators that, without some competitive protection, the corporations would not be motivated to provide service to Colorado’s more rural areas.
It’s been 10 years since the law passed, and broadband service in our area is not at the level it needs to be. By passing these exemptions, our community will regain the ability to create its own plan for strengthening broadband service throughout Routt County and beyond. Similar ballot measures are also being considered in Moffat County, Craig, Summit County, Pitkin County and other Western Slope communities, which lays the groundwork for regional cooperation and expanded partnerships.
We’ve seen what the county, the city and the school district were able to accomplish when they joined forces to create the nonprofit Northwest Colorado Broadband, Inc. They aggregated broadband demand for all three entities, providing redundancy, expanding service and lowering cost. It’s that example that proves our local governments and local businesses have the know-how to solve many of our own broadband issues and provide more reliable, less expensive service for local consumers.
Already, local public and nonprofit partners, including the city, the county, the school district, Colorado Mountain College, Yampa Valley Electric Association and Yampa Valley Medical Center, have hired a consulting firm, through the assistance of a Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant, to begin preparing a countywide broadband plan that will identify current assets and future options for making reliable broadband service available to all Routt County residents. The groundwork is being laid, and voter approval of SB 05-152 exemptions is a key part in moving the broadband planning process forward.
On a practical note, it’s important for voters to understand they may be asked to vote yes on as many as four different Senate Bill 05-152 overrides depending on where they live. In all, there are seven different local governments that have placed the issue on the ballot, including Routt County, the towns of Oak Creek, Yampa and Oak Creek, the city of Steamboat Springs, Colorado Mountain College and Steamboat Springs and Hayden school districts.
A “yes” vote on Nov. 3 won’t immediately create additional broadband capacity or redundancy but it will remove obstacles and provide a way for local communities to begin working together and with private businesses to leverage every resource available to improve critical broadband infrastructure, and ultimately, to provide better service and more affordable Internet options for the general public.
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